Subterranean Termites in Western U.S.



The western U.S. is home to two known native species of subterranean termites, Reticulitermes hesperus (shown here) and Reticulitermes tibialis. But a new analysis shows R. hesperus is likely a species complex of at least two distinct species, and at least five species Reticulitermes in all may be present in California. A better understanding of these separate subterranean termite species and their behaviors will be essential for effective management. (Photo by James Bailey via iNaturalistCC BY-NC 4.0)

By Andrew Porterfield

Andrew Porterfield

Subterranean termites in the genus Reticulitermes are common pests in North America, responsible for significant damage to wooden structures. The scientific literature maintains that the western United States is home to two native species of termites: Reticulitermes hesperus in more coastal regions from British Columbia to Southern California, and Reticulitermes tibialis in more arid inland regions.

However, researchers at the University of California, Riverside, the U.S. Forest Service, and the University of California Cooperative Extension have found evidence of additional Reticulitermes species in the western U.S. Using a series of techniques including cuticular hydrocarbon profiles (CHC), behavior studies (including reproductive flight/swarm timing), and DNA sequencing, the researchers found that Reticulitermes hesperus is in fact one species in a complex of multiple reproductively isolated species and that as many as five species of Reticulitermes may exist in California alone. None of these species in California was identified as R. tibialis. The researchers report their findings in a new study published in October in the Journal of Economic Entomology.

Determining speciation and genetic diversification among termites that recycle wood in natural environments is important to understand their ecology and diversity, as well as to better understand the behavior of more destructive termites and to find more efficient and less environmentally harmful ways of controlling them.

Chow-Yang Lee, Ph.D., professor and endowed presidential chair in urban entomology at UC Riverside, coordinated a team of research scientists and technicians who collected termites from residential sites and field locations in northern and southern California and in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico. Alates (the termites’ winged, swarming, reproductive stage) were captured during their spring, fall, and winter flights. Workers and soldiers in foraging groups were collected in conjunction with studies on taxonomy, foraging behavior, and control of termite colonies with baits. They used a number of techniques to separate the termite species:

  • Cuticular hydrocarbon profiles. Insect species have a distinct mixture of wax components on the outside of their exoskeleton, or cuticle, consisting of combinations of hydrocarbons, fatty acids, alcohols, waxes, glycerides, phospholipids, and glycolipids. Focusing only on the hydrocarbon components, unique chemical “fingerprints” were discovered by chemical analyses using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. Separation of groups, or phenotypes, by their chemical fingerprints was confirmed by studies of agonistic or aggressive behavior, correlation of mating flights of two phenotypes, and genetics using one mitochondrial DNA gene.
  • DNA extraction and sequencing of mitochondrial DNA. Focusing these techniques on cytochrome oxidase II and 16s ribosomal RNA genes and two relatively conserved stretches of DNA that are routinely used to differentiate species provided a powerful examination of the previously identified species using characterization of cuticular hydrocarbon mixtures. Sequences were compared to existing termite DNA sequences on file with GenBank, one of the world’s largest genetic databases.
  • Mating flights and swarming patterns. These behaviors were compared between termite species identified by cuticular hydrocarbon profiles and genetic groupings.

A new study finds that the termite Reticulitermes hesperus is likely a species complex of at least two distinct species, and at least five species Reticulitermes in all may be present in California. The study, published in October in the Journal of Economic Entomology, was conducted by a group of six researchers: Top row, left to right: Shu-Ping Tseng, Ph.D., University of California, Riverside; Andrew Sutherland, Ph.D., BCE, UC Cooperative Extension; and Michael Haverty, Ph.D., U.S. Forest Service. Bottom row, left to right: Chow-Yang Lee, Ph.D., UC, Riverside; Casey Hubble, UC Cooperative Extension, and Lori Nelson, U.S. Forest Service. (Photos courtesy of Chow-Yang Lee, Ph.D.)

The researchers determined that colonies that produce alates (swarmers) in the spring were R. hesperus, and colonies that produce alates in the fall and winter represent a different, undescribed species, based on differences in chemical characteristics and genetics. These results strongly indicated reproductive isolation between separate species. In addition to these two species, chemical and genetic evidence showed the possibility of at least three more undescribed species in California. The two to three species were identified as sympatric (i.e., genetically distinct, reproductively isolated, and living in the same area) in several areas of California.

The combination of chemical and genetic identification techniques has become important for identifying and differentiating Reticulitermes species, the researchers say. Morphological examination has not been reliable for identifications, largely due to vague or inadequate species descriptions, wide variations in size and shape of the castes (workers, soldiers, and alates) in termite colonies, and the challenges involved in collecting specimens of soldiers and alates in the same sample. Even genetic sequencing data alone had its issues—the team found many Reticulitermes genetic specimens entered into GenBank were misidentified.

“Several, but not all, of the species of Reticulitermes are known to damage wooden structures, but their natural habitat and behavior remained poorly understood,” the researchers write in an email interview. This poor understanding has created challenges to termite management efforts, especially with methods utilizing behavioral traits.

“Historically, controlling termites involved using highly toxic, long-lasting pesticides applied to the soil around buildings without detailed knowledge of termite biology,” the researchers say. “With the introduction of slow-acting termite baits, a deeper understanding of termite species, colony size, foraging territory, and seasonal foraging activity become crucial. Identifying the local termite species and understanding their seasonal behaviors become essential for effective subterranean termite management.”

And, the research is just beginning. “Our understanding of the diversity and ecological roles of subterranean termites in California, especially in proximity to wooden structures, is still in its early stages,” they say.

Read More

Phylogenetic analyses of Reticulitermes (Blattodea: Rhinotermitidae) from California and other western states: multiple genes confirm undescribed species identified by cuticular hydrocarbons

Journal of Economic Entomology

Andrew Porterfield is a writer, editor, and communications consultant for academic institutions, companies, and nonprofits in the life sciences. He is based in Camarillo, California. Follow him on Twitter at @AMPorterfield or visit his Facebook page.



Pakistan: Biocontrol agent released to control parthenium


Biocontrol agent released to safeguard crops from parthenium weed in Pakistan

Parthenium weed can produce large quantities of seed, up to 100,000 per plant.

Invasive plants can be extremely harmful to crops. “Famine weed” or parthenium is one such plant. Native to tropical America, it was accidentally introduced to several countries. In Pakistan, the weed now covers thousands of hectares of agricultural and rangeland. And it poses an economic burden to farmers.

Parthenium can reduce crop yields by between 46% to 90%. This harms not only farmers’ livelihoods, but also food security. Furthermore, the weed has severe health effects on humans and livestock. It’s poisonous, causing allergic reactions. And it hosts malaria-carrying mosquitoes. With no natural enemies to control it in its invasive range, it grows in vast monocultures. This displaces native plant species causing biodiversity loss.

Chemical pesticides can partially control parthenium. But they’re harmful to human health and the environment. However, natural alternatives are proving helpful in the control of parthenium. Biological control (biocontrol) is turning the tide on parthenium. Beneficial insects are bringing about a more sustainable approach to managing this dangerous weed in Pakistan.

PlantwisePlus – controlling parthenium weed naturally

To control parthenium naturally, PlantwisePlus has been collaborating with partners in Pakistan. The main project partner is the National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC) in Islamabad. PlantwisePlus is also working closely with universities in Faisalabad, Mardan, Swabi, Tandojam, Multan, Bahawalpur and Rawalpindi.

Invasive species like parthenium invade new locations without their natural enemies. And this is a big problem. Without these beneficial plant diseases and insects, the weed spreads out of control. Biocontrol re-introduces these beneficial enemies. The aim of biocontrol isn’t to eliminate the weed; it’s to control it.

Parthenium lines both sides of a backstreet in Pakistan
A parthenium infestation lines this street in Pakistan.

To control Parthenium hysterophorus, the PlantwisePlus project team has been looking for a suitable biocontrol agent. ‘Biocontrol agent’ is the term that describes natural enemies of the weed, insects, for example. In the wild, these organisms naturally control the weed’s spread. The scientists have been looking for an agent that won’t impact other native species.

Scientists need to select biocontrol agents that specifically target the pest or weed. The agent must not pose a threat to other species. Parthenium hysterophorus has a number of natural enemies. And it’s these enemies that the project team has been researching.

The benefits of biocontrol for controlling parthenium weed

For several years, the team has been studying the effectiveness of Listronotus setosipennis in controlling parthenium. This is a stem boring weevil native to the Americas. The team has rigorously tested the weevil for its host specificity in quarantine laboratory. They’ve been able to confirm the weevil has a narrow host range. This means it only develops and feeds on parthenium and no other plants.

The weevils work by laying eggs in the plant’s flowers. The hatched larvae then tunnel into the stem and feed on the plant. By feeding on the plant, they control its ability to grow and spread. In Australia, the weevils have successfully controlled parthenium, particularly in drought-prone areas.


Local authorities in Pakistan have approved the weevils’ release into the wild. Ongoing monitoring has been essential to ensure that the weevils survive the winter. The weevil has shown great promise. Dr Phil Weyl leads the project under the PlantwisePlus programme. In the spring of 2023, he reviewed the weevils at the release sites. And he found that they had successfully overwintered.

Upscaling the release of the weevil

PlantwisePlus has trained people in many institutions in Pakistan to manage more releases in their local areas. The goal is to release 10,000 adult weevils by the end of 2023. So far, they have released about 10,150.

In June 2023, the project team released 500 Listronotus setosipennis weevils at multiple sites in Pakistan. The release ceremony at NARC was attended by Dr. Ghulam Muhammad Ali, Chairman of the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC). Dr. Babar Bajwa, Senior Regional Director, Asia, represented CABI at the event.

This PlantwisePlus collaboration has brought about a breakthrough in combating parthenium weed. The introduction of the stem boring weevil shows signs of great success. It offers a more sustainable way to manage the spread of parthenium without relying on harmful chemicals or machinery.

CABI aims to publish the project results in 2023, contributing valuable data to further control parthenium weed in Pakistan.

For more information about, see CABI’s parthenium weed portal.

Read more

Biocontrol agent released to control noxious parthenium weed in Pakistan

Training workshop focuses on rearing of stem boring weevil to fight noxious parthenium weed in Pakistan

Can beneficial insects control parthenium weed in Pakistan to safeguard crops?

Rooting out parthenium weed in Pakistan

PlantwisePlus is financially supported by the Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS), Netherlands; European Commission Directorate General for International Partnerships (INTPA, EU); the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), United Kingdom; the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC); the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR); the Ministry of Agriculture of the People’s Republic of China (MARA)

All images are ©CABI

PakistanParthenium hysterophorusbiocontrolbiological controlinvasive speciesparthenium weedpesticide risk reductionweevil

Invasive species

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If you are active in the field of plant health or development and would like to contribute to the Plantwise Blog, please contact Donna Hutchinson. We are happy to post any credible articles that we think would be of interest to our readership.

Views expressed in contributions do not necessarily reflect official CABI or Plantwise positions.


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Stolen genes allow parasitic control of behavior


Stolen genes allow parasitic control of behavior



Peer-Reviewed Publication



A team led by Tappei Mishina at the RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research (BDR) has discovered that parasites manipulate their hosts using stolen genes that they likely acquired through a phenomenon called horizontal gene transfer. The study was published in the scientific journal Current Biology on October 19.

Many parasites manipulate the behavior of their hosts to ensure their survival and ability to reproduce. Horsehair worms display one of the most sophisticated examples of this type of control of behavior. Horsehair worms are born in water and use aquatic insects like mayflies to hitchhike to dry land, where they sit tight until they are eaten by terrestrial insects such as crickets or mantises. Once a horsehair worm reaches these hosts, it starts growing and manipulates the host’s behavior. The matured horsehair worm finally induces the host to jump into water, often to the host’s ultimate demise, so it can complete its life mission and reproduce.

Previous studies have suggested that horsehair worms hijack their hosts’ biological pathways and increase movement towards light, which leads the hosts to approach water. Scientists believe this is accomplished with molecules that mimic those of the hosts’ central nervous systems, but exactly how these parasites developed this kind of molecular mimicry has remained a mystery.

To answer this question, the researchers analyzed whole-body gene expression in a Chordodes horsehair worm before, during, and after manipulating its mantis host. They found over 3,000 hairworm genes that were expressed more when hosts were being manipulated, and 1,500 hairworm genes that were expressed less. On the other hand, gene expression in the mantis brains did not change, and in fact could not be distinguished from that found in uninfected mantises. These results indicate that horsehair worms produce their own proteins for manipulating their hosts’ nervous systems.

The researchers next searched a protein database to explore the origins of the genes that Chordodes horsehair worms use to manipulate mantises. “Strikingly, many of the horsehair worm genes that could play important roles in manipulating their hosts were very similar to mantid genes, suggesting that they were acquired through horizontal gene transfer,” says Mishina. Horizontal gene transfer is a biological process in which genes are transferred from one organism to another, but not through reproduction. It can have significant evolutionary consequences, allowing organisms to acquire new genes or functions rapidly, potentially helping them adapt to new environments or lifestyles.

Further analysis supported the idea that the molecular mimicry seen in the Chordodes horsehair worms is likely the result of horizontal gene transfer from mantises. In particular, over 1,400 Chordodes horsehair worm genes were found to match those in mantises, but were absent or very different from species of horsehair worms that do not use mantis hosts. The authors conclude that the numerous mimicry genes that they identified are likely the result of multiple horizontal gene-transfer events from various mantid species during the evolution of hairworms. These genes, particularly those associated with neuromodulation, attraction to light, and circadian rhythms, appear to play a role in host manipulation.

Horizontal gene transfer is one of the primary ways that bacteria evolve to resist antibiotics. Mishina believes that as we find more examples of horizontal gene transfer between multicellular organisms, we will gain insight into this phenomenon as well as evolution in general. “The many cases of horizontal gene transfer that we have found in the hairworm can be a good model for study,” Mishina says. “Using this model, we hope to identify the mechanisms underlying horizontal gene transfer and advance our understanding of evolutionary adaptation.”


Current Biology





The Growing Utility of Online Photo Sharing for Entomology Research



he increasing volume of insect photo observations shared on iNaturalist and similar sites can no longer be ignored, and entomologists are finding ways to use it. A review in Annals of the Entomological Society of America digs into best practices for bolstering entomological research with this growing body of citizen-science data. Among various findings, the researchers note an over-representation among online photo sharing of butterflies and moths (order Lepidoptera) and of arthropods from the Northern Hemisphere, particularly North America—such as this image of a viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) taken in Benton County, Washington, USA. (Photo by Lisa Hill via iNaturalistCC BY-NC 4.0)

By Grant Bolton, Ph.D.

Grant Bolton, Ph.D.

With a smartphone in so many pockets, everyone is taking pictures of the world and sharing them online. Believe it or not, in 2022 alone, there were 1.72 trillion photos taken, and 92.5 percent of those pictures were taken with a mobile phone!

But, what does that have to do with entomology?

If you’ve ever declared yourself a professional or amateur entomologist, then you know that people love sharing blurry pictures of insects with you, hoping for a quick ID. Instead of hunting down your local entomologist, for naturalists and nature-loving hobbyists, dozens of apps and websites now allow people to share pictures of plants and animals and get accurate identification from experts and enthusiasts.

Some of the most popular platforms and apps in the U.S. include iNaturalist and BugGuide, but there are many options internationally as well

In a research review published in August in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America, entomologists Michael Skvarla, Ph.D., and Ray Fisher, Ph.D., reviewed the impact that photo-sharing platforms have on the entomology community and some of the best practices for using the plethora of data out there to supplement different areas of study.

Skvarla, an assistant research professor of arthropod identification at Penn State University, and Fisher, a research associate at Mississippi State University and the Mississippi Entomological Museum, reviewed 2,123 entomology-based publications that used community photographs and metadata from 77 online photo-sharing portals, including community science apps, social media, and media-sharing sites.

“I use BugGuide and iNaturalist a lot for IDs and personal use,” Skvarla says. “I tried using that photo data in publications and got pushback from editors years ago. However, I started getting less of that pushback recently, and it was becoming more accepted in the scientific literature. I figured it was time to do a review on it.”

What Skvarla and Fisher found was that there has been an exponential growth in the number of publications that used community photos since 2006, with iNaturalist seeing a majority of that growth. With access to this body of citizen-science observations, researchers can potentially expand their pool of data and design studies to answer new questions about insects.

The number of entomological research publications that use community-derived photograph data every year is growing rapidly. Chart A shows the total number of publications per year, and chart B shows the number of publications per year for the five most-used websites. (BG: BugGuide; BV: Biodiversidad Virtual; iNat: iNaturalist; LF: Lepiforum; OIF: Observation International Foundation. (Figures originally published in Skvarla and Fisher 2023, Annals of the Entomological Society of America)

However, using this data does have its limitations. Skvarla and Fisher show in their study that clear biases exist when it comes to which insects are represented in these photos.

“A lot of the papers out there that use citizen-science data focus on big, showy insects,” Skvarla says, “because those are the ones that are most photographed or most easily identifiable. But this does show that there are gaps in the citizen science data that we can address and projects can be built around.”

Additionally, most of these publications used data that represent species from the Palearctic and Nearctic regions—in other words, primarily the northern hemisphere. That can limit the scope of certain research projects that want to focus on the diversity and population distributions of certain insect groups. But, with countries and communities in the tropics and southern hemisphere adopting and using more of this technology, there is tremendous potential for expanding the data to include a greater diversity of insects in those regions.

A clear bias exists in the origin of photos shared on online citizen-science observation websites such as iNaturalist, with greater representation of species from the Palearctic and Nearctic regions—in other words, primarily the northern hemisphere. This map charts the number of publications that used community-derived photographic data per country, as found in a review of 2,123 entomology-based publications that used community photographs and metadata from 77 online photo-sharing portals. (Figure originally published in Skvarla and Fisher 2023, Annals of the Entomological Society of America)

Much of the data on these photo-sharing platforms is being used in distinct categories, including:

  • behavior, ecology, and natural history
  • color patterns
  • host plant ID
  • new genera and species
  • identification
  • rediscoveries.

And that’s just using the photographs themselves. Beyond that, metadata from these sites (i.e., the info that accompanies every picture, such as location, timestamps, etc.) can be used to study:

  • distribution
  • monitoring and surveillance
  • abundance
  • changes in species richness
  • habitat, distribution, niche, and occupancy modeling
  • population modeling
  • and more.

With a little creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, researchers can use these underutilized data and information to explore and explain these patterns and trends in entomology.

So, what are some things researchers should keep in mind when considering community photo data?

These platforms offer a huge source of information, but researchers need to use it with caveats and understand the pitfalls of the platform. An example Skvarla and Fisher share in their review demonstrates this bias. A study reported a substantial increase in photographs of monarch butterflies on the west coast of California and a mistaken correlation with “unprecedented breeding activity” among the population. However, in the same time period, there was an exponential increase in monarch butterfly submissions on iNaturalist.

Additionally, researchers should consider “trends in photo-sharing, biases in when and where photographs are taken, and accuracy of identifications” when using photo-sharing data.

In sum, Skvarla and Fisher conclude that, while this data can be unstructured and prone to bias, there are opportunities to use community-generated data to supplement and reinforce future publications.

And for those getting started with photo-sharing platforms, it’s a great way to better understand the flora and fauna near you.

“If you’re interested in learning more about the world around you and want to know what’s out there, start taking pictures of what you see,” Skvarla says.  “I’ve learned about what I have growing in my yard and in the woods because I take photos of them and put them on iNaturalist. Then people identify them for me. And don’t forget to take good-quality photos. Blurry ones don’t help as much.”

Read More

Online community photo-sharing in entomology: a large-scale review with suggestions on best practices

Annals of the Entomological Society of America

Grant Bolton, Ph.D., is a freelance writer and voice actor with a Ph.D. in entomology based in western Missouri. Email:



“The fear of the virus is, in fact, probably greater than the damage it has done”


“The fear of the virus is, in fact, probably greater than the damage it has done”


Dimitri Calabrese, from Hortoverde Nature S.L.: “Products from Spain are very well-accepted in Italy”

Everything points to Almeria’s tomato acreage being reduced this year due, among other factors, to the fear of ToBRFV. Thus, it would help to have official data on the situation to make it possible to assess its actual gravity and whether the current alarm is justified. “Last year, here in the west of Almeria, but also in the area of Níjar and Campohermoso, we had some problems with this virus. It is not known exactly how many hectares are affected, but rumors point to about 300-400 out of the 7,000 hectares planted with tomatoes,” says Dimitri Calabrese, manager of Hortoverde Nature. “If so, I don’t consider the issue to be so serious; in fact, the fear of the virus is probably greater than the damage it has done. Comparatively, the Tuta absoluta pest caused more damage last season.”

“The same thing has happened in Sicily. In the area of Vittoria and Pachino, the acreage devoted to tomatoes has also been reduced, although it seems that the problem there is more severe because the climate is different than in Almeria.”

Margherita and Dimitri Calabrese, from Hortoverde Nature, at Fruit Attraction 2023.

“Just like Sicily, Almeria is also testing the new varieties resistant to this pest. Some trials were carried out last season, and this year, our growers have continued testing them in their greenhouses, but the lack of good calibers of these varieties has been remarkable for us.”

“At Hortoverde Nature, we are strongly focused on the Italian market, which demands very large calibers, not only of tomatoes, of which we grow mostly varieties on the vine but also of bell peppers. We are talking about GG and GGG sizes, so we are already talking to the buyers of supermarket chains in Italy, telling them what the situation is so that both they and consumers can be aware of what is going on with the production. Thus, we are working to ensure not only that customers accept medium sizes but also that growers will work with these varieties and give them more peace of mind,” says Dimitri.

“Spain’s quality/price ratio is an undeniable advantage over other origins”
The vine tomato campaign is running late this year due to the heat of previous months, a factor that has also taken a toll on bell peppers. “We have been handling small calibers since September since the high temperatures have been causing the peppers to ripen very quickly, resulting in fruits with very thin walls. However, now that the weather has changed the situation is finally going back to normal.”

“As with vine tomatoes, the Italian market demands large-sized peppers, and sometimes it is not easy to get them. In general, Italy accounts for just about 5-7% of Almeria’s exports. It isn’t as important a destination as Germany, France, or the Netherlands, so there’s no real reason to change the way in which the products are handled. When it comes to sizes, the cooperatives and large companies working with German markets are increasingly using more medium-sized bell peppers for their tricolor packs and even paying a lower price for the large sizes.”

“Regarding colors, there are also differences. The Italian market demands green-streaked yellow peppers, something that is not generally done in Almeria, but which the growers we work with at Hortoverde have been obtaining to be able to meet the needs of our customers,” says Dimitri.

In truth, while Italy is a large fruit and vegetable producer and there is a high consumption of domestic products adapted to the market’s demands, products from Spain are very well-accepted by Italian supermarkets and consumers. “The Italian market is a bit challenging because chains tend to prioritize the supply of Italian produce and only switch to Spanish produce when there is a smaller national production. Therefore, to be able to work there, you need to know the market really well,” says the manager of Hortoverde Nature.

“Nevertheless, Spanish products tend to be very popular. It’s the case, for example, of the Oxhart in the tomato segment, which has traditionally been considered an Italian specialty and which we have been working with for 5 years now. There are chains, in fact, that pay more attention to the quality/price ratio, and a very high percentage of their products come from Spain; therefore, Spain has an undeniable advantage over other origins.”

For more information:
Hortoverde Nature S.L.
Ctra. La Mojonera-El Solanillo, 4855
04738 Vícar, Almeria, Spain
Tel.: +34 950 500 999


Soil carried on sea freight loaded with dangerous pests and diseases


Soil carried on sea freight loaded with dangerous pests and diseases

Saturday, 21 October 2023 13:01:40

Grahame Jackson posted a new submission ‘Soil carried on sea freight loaded with dangerous pests and diseases: Study’


Soil carried on sea freight loaded with dangerous pests and diseases: Study


by Pensoft Publishersa
Often introduced unintentionally by human activities, invasive alien species can outcompete and overwhelm native flora and fauna, driving species to the brink of extinction and disrupting the balance of ecosystems. Understanding why exactly they establish in new locations and how they got there in the first place is crucial if we are to mitigate their destructive effects. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough research on this, and the answers might not always be straightforward.

A research team from AgResearch and Better Border Biosecurity (B3) investigated the biological risk posed by soil on the external surfaces of sea freight such as shipping containers or used machinery at sea ports in New Zealand. With their work, the researchers hope to facilitate the assessment of relative biosecurity risks between different introduction pathways and contribute to the development of more efficient measures against them.

The team found soil on most types of sea freight, irrespective of origin, with all soil likely to vector microbes, including plant pathogens. The amount of soil recovered from a single sea container was 5.3 kg, while the overall mean weight collected from sea freight was 417g, with most of the soil found on the underside of sea freight.

“While the presence of soil is perhaps not surprising, the presence of live bacteria, fungi, worms, seeds and insects associated with the soil was of greater concern. Various regulated biosecurity organisms were recovered from the samples, including plant-parasitic worms, seeds, insects and spiders that were not recorded as being present in New Zealand,” says Mark McNeill of AgResearch, who led the study.

“Not only does the spread of exotic species through these networks represent significant environmental, economic and social costs to natural and agricultural environments if invasive alien species were to establish, a loss of biodiversity is also an expected consequence of invasive alien species establishment.”

“For islands, the implications can be significant, as they have high levels of endemism and invasive alien species establishment can lead to extinction of species as well as biodiversity declines,” the researchers write in their paper, which was published in NeoBiota.

Compared to a previous study on contaminated footwear carried in luggage by international airline passengers, the number and diversity in soil on sea freight was smaller than soil transported in more protected environments (e.g., footwear in luggage).

This showed that biosecurity risk can vary with pathway. However, prioritizing one soil pathway over another according to the risks they present, and differentially allocating resources is problematic, because the relative risk is dynamic, dictated by factors such as new pests or diseases entering the respective pathways.

Even so, the researchers suggest that contaminated sea freight is an important introduction pathway for exotic species. The establishment of such species can be prevented by cleaning containers prior to departure, inspection at the border, and further cleaning where required.


The mite Amblyseius swirskii is a rising star in pest management’


The mite Amblyseius swirskii is a rising star in pest management’

Saturday, 21 October 2023 14:08:32

Grahame Jackson posted a new submission ‘This Predatory Mite is a Rising Star in Pest Management’


This Predatory Mite is a Rising Star in Pest Management

entomology today

The mite Amblyseius swirskii (adult female shown here) feeds on various insect and mite species, including many notorious pests of vegetable crops. A new article in the Journal of Integrated Pest Management explores the biology and applications of this versatile mite that have propelled it to the forefront of many IPM programs. (Image originally published in Lopez 2023, Journal of Integrated Pest Management)

By Lorena Lopez, Ph.D.

Lorena Lopez, Ph.D.

In the world of agricultural entomology, the quest for sustainable pest management solutions has led us down a fascinating path. Among the multitude of biocontrol agents, the predatory mite Amblyseius swirskii has emerged as a game changer. Its remarkable capabilities and versatility make it a highly valued asset in our efforts against pests in vegetable crops. However, several challenges and considerations must be addressed to realize its full potential.

Amblyseius swirskii, originally described in 1962 from almond trees in Israel, has taken center stage as a potent biological control agent—an insect or arthropod that can be deployed to suppress pests. Geographical boundaries no longer confine this predatory mite to the Mediterranean region; it has made its mark across the globe. From Europe to Asia, Africa, and the Americas, this commercially available predatory mite has been released in more than 50 countries worldwide and has established populations in many countries’ crops. This global distribution speaks loudly about its effectiveness as a biological control agent in various agricultural settings, from greenhouses to open fields.

In an article published in September in the open-access Journal of Integrated Pest Management, I profile Amblyseius swirskii and its biology, distribution, and various applications for biological control in IPM programs.

Read on: