Sunday 28 December 2014

Meet the Kiwi wasp scientists hope can kill our beetle pest

Greg Harkin

Published 16/08/2014 | 02:30

The eucalyptus leaf beetle pest paropsistern selmani
The eucalyptus leaf beetle pest paropsistern selmani
The parasitoid wasp enoggera nassaui in the act of parasitising a beetle egg

SCIENTISTS have brought in a pest-killing wasp from New Zealand in a bid to wipe out a beetle causing havoc in our forests.

The eucalyptus leaf beetle pest is normally found in Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia but has now taken up home in the forests of Cork and Kerry. It has spread in recent weeks and it has taken up residence in Wexford and Wicklow.

Researchers at Teagasc and University College Dublin are investigating if the enogerra nassaui wasp from New Zealand is safe to release into Ireland to take on and kill off beetle pest which first arrived in Ireland in 2007.

The beetle, latin name paropsisterna selmani, poses a significant threat to our commercial foliage, biomass and forestry industries, say researchers.

Dorothy Hayden, a Lecturer at the Teagasc College of Amenity Horticulture, National Botanic Gardens, who is currently undertaking a PhD as a Teagasc Walsh Fellow, is investigating the suitability of this egg parasitoid as a bio-control agent for the leaf beetle in Ireland.

"Our research is investigating whether it is safe to release the biological control agent into Ireland," said Dr Hayden.

"We are investigating its response to Irish weather conditions, its success in attacking the pest species and the extent to which it will only attack the pest species," she added.

The wasp has been used as a biocontrol agent of similar leaf beetles in New Zealand by attacking their eggs.

It has been imported into a special quarantine insectary in UCD for further study.

"The research will provide the necessary information to fulfil the requirements of a risk assessment required, if a field release application is considered safe," said Hayden.

"This is the first paropsine leaf beetle to become established in Europe and it was initially discovered damaging foliage crops in Kerry in 2007. It is now commonly found in many areas of Cork. Even in the last few months, new information indicates that this invasive pest has spread to Wexford and Wicklow.

"Predictions of the patterns of spread, suggest that it is only a matter of time before it is established throughout the island and this poses a bio-security risk to the UK and mainland Europe."

She said pesticides can be used to take on the colourful beetle but this was found to disrupt the fight against another pest - a sap-sucking psyllid or plant louse.

Irish Independent

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