Scientists Sort Out Who's Who Among
Australian Pine Species By
Marcia Wood October 24, 2008
Invasive Australian pines that crowd out native plants in Florida
present a particular conundrum. In the Sunshine State, it can be very difficult
to tell the look-alike Casuarina species and subspecies from one
Correct identification is important to the
Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
scientists who want to import Casuarina-quelling insects from the
invasive tree's Australian homeland to stop the plants' uncontrolled advance in
Florida. But until they know whos who among the confusing Casuarina
trees, researchers wont be able to precisely match the helpful
insects with the exact Casuarina with which they evolved in Australia.
Perfect matches may be critical to the insects success in the United
To solve the identity puzzle, ARS botanist and research leader
Gaskin is analyzing DNA taken from Casuarina trees growing in
Australia, where their identification is certain. Hes comparing that to
DNA from the Casuarina trees currently running amok in south Florida.
Lassey, who work with Gaskin in the
Pest Management Research Unit in Sidney, Mont., extract DNA from leaves
that Gaskin collected in 2006 from Casuarina trees growing along
Australias eastern coast.
Theyre also working with Casuarina specimens gathered
elsewhere in Australia by four co-investigators: Matthew Purcell and Bradley
Brown of the ARS
Australian Biological Control Laboratory in Indooroopilly, Australia; Gary
Taylor of the University of Adelaide
in Australia, and
Wheeler of the
Invasive Plant Research Laboratory in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
The study is the first to use DNA to definitively identify
Casuarina trees in Florida. Gaskin expects to have final results
sometime this year.
ARS is a scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.