The Bird, the Borer and the Bean

Yellow Warbler © Tom Tetzner

Yellow Warbler © Tom Tetzner

A recent study carried out in Costa Rica found that insectivorous birds such as the Yellow Warbler help to reduce infestations of the Coffee Berry Borer Beetle on coffee plantations by 50%. This free pest control service is estimated to save a medium sized coffee farm up to $9,400 per year. The study carried out by biologists from Stanford University could provide incentive for biodiversity conservation and enhancement of ecosystem services and also offer hope to coffee farmers devastated by the beetle.

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Could Spider Venom Be Used As A Novel Insecticide For Major Crop Pests?

Could spider venom be used as a new novel insecticide? Image ©giovzaid85 via Flickr

Could spider venom be used as a new novel insecticide? Image ©giovzaid85 via Flickr

A new protein discovered in the venom of Australian tarantulas can also kill insect pests that consume the venom orally. The protein known as orally active insecticidal peptide-1 (OAIP-1) was found to be highly toxic to insects that consumed it, with a similar efficacy to the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid. In particular, the protein was found to be highly toxic to the cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa zea.

Many spider species have evolved insecticidal toxins in their venom, which they inject into the prey through their fangs. Consequently it has often been presumed that the venom would not be toxic when ingested orally by insects pests, and therefore would not be suitable for use as an insecticide. Conversely, the scientists in this study discovered it is possible to isolate spider venom peptides with high levels of oral insecticidal activity. The team used the venom from Selenotypus plumipes which is a large tarantula native to Australia which despite its large size is not harmful to humans.

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New strategy required for delaying insect resistance to Bt crops

Kenyan farmer Mary Ngare in her maize field damaged by stem borers © CIMMYT (CC BY-NC-SA)

Kenyan farmer Mary Ngare in her maize field damaged by stem borers © CIMMYT (CC BY-NC-SA)

Transgenic Bt crops have been grown around the world since the 1990s and have contributed to increased yields by controlling agricultural pests. Due to the importance of this technology, there has been continuous study into the development of resistance to Bt crops and how best to avoid this happening. A recent investigation into the rapid spread of Bt resistance in South Africa has revealed one of the more surprising discoveries to date, that the maize stalk borer (Busseola fusca) has evolved Bt maize resistance inherited as a dominant trait for the first time. This has significant impacts on the management of Bt crops, as current methods for sustaining susceptibility rely on the recessive inheritance of Bt resistance.

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In Uganda, plant doctors gain new insights

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Nineteen plant doctors  from the eastern and central region of Uganda are equipped and ready to give good advice to farmers – by Jane Frances Asaba and Joseph Mulema  in Kampala, Uganda and Phil Taylor in UK

As Plantwise Uganda continues to roll out more plant clinics, the need for training of plant doctors to ensure effective, affordable, locally-accessible and safe advice to farmers has become increasingly urgent. Partners and individual plant doctors are demanding more training and access to information to keep up with the need from smallholder farmers for good advice against crop pests.

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Plantwise Plant Clinics in Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago Country Coordinator Shamela Rambadan sent the photo below of a Soursop (Annona muricata) plant brought into a clinic in County Victoria in Trinidad and Tobago by farmer Ramesh Ramnanan last month. The symptoms described included yellowed, distorted leaves and visible insects on the leaves, as seen in the photo. Plant health officer Zobida Mohammed diagnosed the symptoms to be caused by mealybugs and scale insects and recommended that the farmer used a suitable insecticide on the crop to avoid further damage.

A photo of the leaves of a Soursop plant from a plant clinic in County Victoria. The insect pests are visible as white dots along the leaf veins. Image courtesy of Zobida Mohammed

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Fungi just as effective as pesticides at controlling crop pest

Leatherjackets are amongst the crop pests being targeted with biocontrol © Rasbak (CC BY-SA licence)

Researchers at Swansea University have found a strain of fungi that could replace harmful pesticides in the control of the European crane fly (Tipula paludosa). The effects of 17 strains of entomopathogenic fungi, chlorpyrifos-based pesticides and a nematode worm were compared. The pesticides and fungal strain V1005 Metarhizium robertsii were both found to be 100% effective at controlling crane fly larvae, which are pests to many crop and tree species. The larvae, known as ‘leatherjackets’, feed on cereals, cabbages and lettuces, as well as young tree saplings, resulting in millions of pounds of damage every year in Europe and North America. Read more of this post

Improved Pest Control From Macho Hormone Treated Male Fruit Flies

Mexican Fruit Fly Anastrepha ludens © Jefferey W Lotz (CC-BY-3.0-US license, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Mexican Fruit Fly Anastrepha ludens is the most important native fruit fly pest of citrus in America and also infests other economically important crops such as peaches, peppers and mangoes. In cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mexico has developed a Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) method which involves exposing huge quantities of male fruit flies to irradiation before releasing them en masse  to mate with wild female flies. The male flies are exposed to enough radiation to sterilise them, so that mating with wild females results in the production of non-viable eggs. Over time repeated releases of large quantities of sterilised male flies causes the target pest population to collapse. The use of the SIT applied as part of an area-wide integrated pest management approach provides an environmentally safe and species-specific method to suppress, and in some cases eradicate insects of agricultural, veterinary and medical importance worldwide. The success of the SIT in effectively controlling target pest insect populations requires males to be able to successfully compete against wild unsterilized males to mate with females. Recent developments to improve SIT program effectiveness have been discovered by scientists from the Agricultural Research Service who found that the use of methoprene, an analogue of an insect hormone, and additional protein hydrolysate in the fruit fly diet helped to make sterilised males more “macho” by increasing their competitiveness in the wild, therefore making them more attractive as a mate to females.

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Tanzanian farmers keeping peckish elephants at bay

African elephants are wreaking havoc on farms in Tanzania © Gerard D. Hertel, West Chester University, Bugwood.org

It’s good news for the savanna ecosystem that the elephant population of East Africa has increased in recent years, but bad news for farmers whose crops are being devoured by these giant pests. Wildlife services’ successful anti-poaching campaigns and an increased designation of land to national parks has helped elephant population numbers to recover. However, with the concurrent expansion of farmland, there are now more frequent encounters between man and beast. Read more of this post

From discovery to eradication: the coconut rhinoceros beetle on Guam

The coconut rhinoceros beetle has damaged many palm trees in Guam © Peter Lillywhite, Museum Victoria, Pests and Diseases Image Library (CC BY 3.0 license)

It takes a large combined effort to successfully eradicate a plant pest. The Guam Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle Eradication Project has finally found a technique that could bring them their own eradication success story. The coconut rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes rhinoceros) was first discovered in Guam on 11th September 2007. Over the past five years it has caused severe damage to coconut palms, although its initial spread was slowed by the quick reactions of the government. It is now present in many parts of the island and, as coconuts are an important economic commodity for the US territory, is high priority for removal. Read more of this post

Need to control rodents on your crops? Use birds of prey!

The great horned owl is one bird of prey that can be used to control rodents on farmland © Abigail Rumsey

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel is encouraging farmers to use barn owls (Tyto alba) to control rodent pests on their crops. They aim to attract barn owls by constructing nest boxes; so far 2,000 have been distributed to farmers. As barn owls only hunt at night, day-hunting kestrels are also being provided for to ensure a more effective rodent-targetting system. Although it has taken a while to persuade farmers in neighbouring Jordan to take up the use of barn owls in their fields, success has also been had controlling rodent populations there.

It isn’t just farmers from the Middle East that have found birds of prey to be beneficial when dealing with rodent pests. All around the world, farmers have found that this natural solution can be cheaper and less harmful to the environment than using poisons or traps. Here are some case studies of using birds of prey in agriculture: Read more of this post

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