Leaf miner becomes vine connoisseur

©Fabio Ingrosso

Leaf miners have an eclectic palate between them, enjoying everything from sweet potatoes to coconuts and cashews. It appears that at some point they decided that something was missing – perhaps a fine wine to wash it all down?

After intensive studying of diet, morphology and DNA barcoding, it has been revealed that a mystery moth that appeared in Italian vineyards in 2006 is not the Antispila ampelopsifoliella that it was suspected to be, but instead A. oinophylla, a grapevine leaf miner.

Since it first arrived nearly six years ago, A. oinophylla has spread across Italian provinces and populations have substantially increased in commercial vineyards. They affect the health and productivity of the plant by damaging the vine leaves: adult moths lay eggs on the underside of the leaves, and when the caterpillars hatch they gorge themselves on the digestible layers of the plant. It might seem like A. oinophylla has got life sorted, with Italian sunshine and Chardonnay on tap, but for vineyard growers its presence could have a significant economic impact.

Antispila oinophylla, by NCB Naturalis

The fact that they have reached Italy from North America is cause for concern over the wide-spread destruction this pest could cause. The cocoons are easily camouflaged on vine leaves and can survive for long periods at low temperatures, so imported plants and debris from affected areas could easily be carrying this hidden danger. Aside from the potential spread of this pest within Europe and North America, the top ten wine-producing regions in the world include countries from 6 different continents – with two already home to A. oinophylla, how long will it be until other areas are affected?

Scientists involved in the identification of this species have made a plea for more research to be done before populations boom and their distribution extends further. Having only just identified this species and with little understanding of the lives and ecology of leaf miners (Heliozelidae), how to control them remains unclear. There is hope that a parasitic wasp might do the trick, but this hasn’t been fully investigated yet.

While a correct identification of the grapevine leaf miner is an important step forward in protecting the grape and wine industry, it looks like it could be a while before we see an end to this fine diner – cheese and biscuits anyone?

Sources:

Gill, V. New moth species invades Italy’s vineyards, BBC, 24 February 2012

Italian vineyards invaded from North America by new species of leafminer, EurekAlert!, 23 February 2012

Nieukerken, E. J. van, Wagner, D. L., Baldessari, M., Mazzon, L., Angeli, G., Girolami, V., Duso, C., Doorenweerd, C. (2012) Antispila oinophylla new species (Lepidoptera, Heliozelidae), a new North American grapevine leafminer invading Italian vineyards: taxonomy, DNA barcodes and life cycle, ZooKeys 170: 29-77. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.170.2617

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