How safe is the enemy of a citrus-threatening pest?
“In only one instance was a non-target species attacked at very low rates — less than 5 percent,” Hoddle said. “This was the native pest potato psyllid, which spreads a bacterium that causes zebra chip disease. Such low attack rates are unlikely to cause population declines of this pest.”
According to Hoddle, such results demonstrate that carefully selected natural enemies used in biological control programs for invasive pests can be very safe and should not cause unwanted environmental damage.
“There is growing concern over the damage that invasive species cause,” he said, “and biological control programs don’t want to be causing additional problems through releasing inappropriate agents for the control of invasive pests. Safety tests like those conducted in this study greatly minimize these risks.”
Hoddle noted that the tests were difficult to conduct in quarantine.
“Native psyllids are hard to find and the native plants they grow on are difficult to culture in the laboratory,” he said. “It was very rewarding to have completed these demanding studies over an 18 month period and to discover that the Pakistani wasp will be a good natural enemy to use in California for the biological control of ACP.”
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reviewed and approved the 60-page Environment Assessment Report, the foundational work that the research paper is based on, and approved release of Tamarixia from quarantine. The data presented in the report is essentially the same as the published paper except that this time it was reviewed by additional scientists.
“We have now released more than 200,000 Tamarixia radiata in Southern California at more than 350 different sites, mainly in urban areas and spanning six counties — Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego,” Hoddle said. “They have established and are spreading, tracking down ACP on citrus in people’s gardens and orchards.”
The Tamarixia larvae will eat the ACP nymphs, killing them, and emerge as adults about 12 days later. Adult female Tamarixia also eat other ACP nymphs, killing many in the process.
Hoddle was joined in the study by Raju Pandey, a former postdoctoral researcher in his lab and working now with the Citrus Research Board.
The research was supported by a California Department of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crops Grant and a Citrus Research Board grant.