Overseas Collections Play Important Role in Controlling
By Stephanie Yao
January 6, 2010
When melaleuca began invading the
Florida Everglades and surrounding areas,
Service (ARS) scientists knew of one place to look for a solution: the
Biological Control Laboratory (ABCL).
Melaleuca quinquenervia, commonly known as the "Australian
broad-leaved paperbark tree," is a serious invasive plant in Florida that
has caused extensive environmental and economic damage. In its native country
of Australia, melaleuca trees are widely planted. But in Florida, melaleuca is
a pest, growing into immense forests and virtually eliminating all other
That's why when the Florida melaleuca population needed to be controlled,
ARS scientists at ABCL in Brisbane began surveying, collecting and curating the
herbivorous insects of melaleuca and adding them to their extensive collection.
More than 450 insect species in the collection feed on melaleuca alone. Two of
these insects have been successful in curbing melaleuca's spread and a third
has successfully established, thanks to the leadership and cooperative effort
Invasive Plant Research Laboratory (IPRL) in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and
The insects join tens of thousands of herbivorous and parasitic insects in
ABCL's collection that have been professionally preserved for permanent
storage. The specimens are often used for genetic characterization and by
taxonomists to conduct systematic studies and identify cryptic speciesnew
species that look identical to those already known.
ABCL's collection also houses samples of targeted weeds such as melaleuca.
These samples are used to help characterize and genetically match weeds in the
exotic range with specimens from the native range, an essential component in
selecting effective, host-specific biocontrol agents.
During the past 24 years, the scientists at ABCL have explored countries
throughout Asia to find the most promising biocontrol agents. According to Matt
Purcell, entomologist and director of ABCL, a large percentage of the insects
they collect are previously unknown to science. Their collections help to
increase the knowledge of biodiversity across different habitats and ecosystems
in Australia and Southeast Asia.
Similar biocontrol collections are housed at ARS labs in Montpellier,
France; Hurlingham, Argentina; and Beijing, China.
more about them in the January 2010 issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of