plant diagnostics

Become a First Detector

late blight
Late blight. Photo: Joan Allen

By Joan Allen

The National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN) was formed along with the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) in 2002.

The mission of the NPDN is to enhance national agricultural security by quickly detecting and identifying introduced pests and pathogens.

This is accomplished through the creation of a nationwide network of diagnostic laboratories at land-grant universities (UConn in Connecticut) and state agriculture departments, training for diagnosticians and First Detectors, and the establishment of pro- cedures to be followed when a suspected exotic introduction is discovered.

Introduction of a damaging exotic pest or pathogen can be either acciden- tal (such as the Asian Longhorned Beetle [ALB] or the Emerald Ash Borer [EAB]) or intentional (such as an act
of bioterrorism).

Who can be a First Detector? Anyone who spends time with plants and would like to learn how they can help protect them from exotic pests and pathogens. The group includes professionals that work with plants in areas such as re- search, extension, agriculture, forestry, landscaping and the green industry.

But professionals aren’t the only ones who can play an important role in the early detection of an introduced pest or pathogen that has the potential to cause significant and damaging impact. Gar- deners, hikers, campers and anyone who spends time enjoying the outdoors all make great First Detectors.

By becoming familiar with the common plant pests and problems in your area, you can learn to recognize some- thing unusual and follow the established protocol to have it identified and, if needed, acted upon.

Free training is available online at https://firstdetector.org or by attending a local in-person training session. In-person training sessions can be organized for groups at no cost by contacting joan.allen@uconn.edu

The online training consists of six modules that can be completed one at a time at your convenience. Module topics include Mission of the NPDN, Monitoring for High Risk Pests, Diagnosing Plant Problems, Submitting Diagnostic Samples, Photography for Diagnosis and Disease & Pest Scenarios.

Each module is followed by a short quiz. Once all six are successfully completed, you will be a certified First Detector and can download your certificate.

The training includes information on what to do and who to contact if you come across an unusual pest, pathogen or plant. Certified First Detectors become part of a national network and may receive email communications including alerts about pests and pathogens that are a threat to plants in their area along with an electronic newsletter.