Date of this Version
Agricultural Research Magazine 60(2): February 2012 pp. 12-13; ISSN 0002-161X
Sandy beaches, blue water, warm weather, and—invasive insects? One of these things certainly doesn’t belong. When we think of island paradise, invasive insects don’t usually come to mind. But these pesky pests are a problem for countries all over the world.
In two separate projects, Agricultural Research Service scientists are working with their Azorean and French Polynesian counterparts to help control invasive insects there. Since these pests are also invasive in the United States, these collaborations may have mutual benefit. So far, the results have been promising.
An Infestation in the Azores
Off the coast of Portugal lies an archipelago of nine volcanic islands known as the Azores. The islands are rising in popularity as a vacation destination as people flock there to take in the lush, garden scenery, the blue and green lagoons, and the laid-back island lifestyle.
But in the early 1970s, an unwelcome traveler made its way to the islands. The Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) was accidentally introduced onto the island of Terceira, marking the start of the insect’s invasion. Over the next 40 years, beetle populations increased exponentially, causing major agricultural damage and threatening exports of Terceira products. And because of frequent inter-island travel, the beetle has now spread throughout most of the other islands in the archipelago.
Work on biological control of the beetle was initially started by entomologist Lerry Lacey, now retired from ARS. Over a 2-year period in 1989-1990, he conducted research on development of the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae, a bacterium, entomopathogenic nematodes, and parasitic insects to manage the Japanese beetle. His work laid the foundation for current efforts.