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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Sterile Insect Control of Invasive Pests, with a Focus on Moths

Location: Crop Protection and Management Research

2013 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416):
1. Improve performance of the sterile insect technique (SIT) as an integrated control tactic against invasive and established lepidopteran pests by developing techniques that accurately measure field performance of released sterile moths and evaluating various laboratory and semi-field bioassays for their ability to predict field performance of sterile moths.

2. Advance the ability to integrate and monitor SIT in abatement/eradication programs against exotic/invasive Lepidoptera pests by developing methods and techniques to survey for the presence and density of both genders of target pest species, and to measure overflooding ratios and interaction of released sterile insects and wild insects; improving trapping and survey technology by developing calibrations that accurately predict pest population densities, trap efficiency, and efficacy of early detection programs for exotic pests; and, evaluating various marking techniques for identifying irradiated, released, and sterile moths and their interaction with the wild population, and measuring invasive pest movement and dispersal.

3. Increase our understanding of factors that affect insect pest invasiveness and establishment by examining and comparing mortality factors and host plant assemblages present in the insect pests’ native geographical range with the mortality factors and host plant assemblages present in the adventive geographical range and studying the ecology of invasive Lepidoptera pests to understand the role of voltinism, multiple strain introductions, flight propensity and capacity, and strain interaction with respect to dispersal and invasiveness.


1b.Approach (from AD-416):
We will conduct laboratory, greenhouse, and field research to improve the performance of the SIT as an integrated control tactic against invasive and established lepidopteran pests, advance the ability to integrate and monitor SIT in abatement/eradication programs against exotic/invasive Lepidoptera pests, and Increase our understanding of factors that affect insect pest invasiveness and establishment. This research, which emphasizes collaboration with State, Federal, and international cooperators, will result in improved management strategies for invasive insect pests that threaten U.S. agricultural and horticultural crops and natural ecosystems.

Invasive alien species are constantly threatening the abundant plant resources and the plant-based industries of the United States. Many of the most serious insect pests in the U.S. are introduced Lepidopterans. Action Agencies like the USDA-APHIS need pest control options and technologies such as the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) that are effective, environmentally-benign, and socially-acceptable in order to provide a rapid response to newly invasive lepidopteran species in agricultural, urban and environmentally-sensitive areas. The SIT has been a useful tactic for combating lepidopteran pest species; however, implementing the SIT against an invasive species requires a high level of organization, substantial funding, and a considerable knowledge of the biology and ecology of the invasive pest. Improved knowledge, control tactics, technologies, strategies and assays are needed to reduce the costs and increase the successful implementation of the SIT against invasive Lepidoptera.


3.Progress Report:
Research activities and experimental trials were conducted to optimize the sterile insect technique (SIT) and develop control tactics to manage/exclude invasive and exotic lepidopteran pest species. A continued effort was directed toward the improvement of a Bi-National Program to control/eradication the Argentine cactus moth, an invasive pest that threatens native Opuntia cacti biodiversity and Opuntia-based industries in the southwestern USA and Mexico. In cooperation with USDA-APHIS, the IAEA, the NAPPO, Florida Division of Plant Industry, the University of Florida, and SAGARPA, Mexico, we continued developing and testing quality control bioassays, continued field trials to improve the pheromone lure for monitoring pest presence and population levels, improved handling and irradiation procedures for the SIT, and improved interstate and international shipping protocols that would preserve the quality of sterile moths to be used in SIT releases. Following the successful eradication of this pest from Mexico, the Bi-National Program established a mass-rearing insectary for the production of sterile moths at the Florida Department of Plant Industries Laboratory in Gainesville, Florida, to supplement the sterile moth production at the ARS CPMRU research laboratory and eventually provide the moths for the operational program. To insure moth quality, laboratory and field bioassays were conducted on sterile moths from both insectaries. Research findings on quality assessments and comparisons between the two insectaries have been incorporated into a manuscript and into the Bi-National Program against the cactus moth. Data from this study were used as feedback mechanisms to make protocol changes both rearing and handling that improved moth quality and performance. Research has continued to develop new control technologies that offer sustainable management options for this pest in native desert ecosystems and commercial cactus production areas, including biological control and the disruption of pheromone communication systems (adult and larval). In cooperation with scientists from FuEDEI, Argentina, we found that a newly described larval parasitoid of the cactus moth, Apanteles opuntiarum, endemic to Argentina has a very narrow host range in Argentina. We established a colony of A. opuntiarum in a quarantine facility in Gainesville, Florida, for further testing of its potential host range on North American lepidopteran species. These scientists also conducted field trials in Argentina on a formulation of the synthetic C. cactorum sex pheromone as a mating disruptant, and observed that both mating and oviposition were significantly reduced in the pheromone-treated plots. In continued collaboration with scientists from SUNY, Cortland, New York, we are evaluating the efficacy of a trail-following pheromone in C. cactorum larvae to disrupt the gregarious behavior required to successfully attack Opuntia. Also, bioassays to evaluate the quality of sterile moths for lepidopteran SIT programs have been conducted in South Africa using the codling moth as a model system with the cooperation of the Agricultural Research Council of South Africa and the IAEA.


4.Accomplishments
1. Biological control agent targeted for the control of the invasive Argentine cactus moth in North America. Subsequent to its detection in south Florida in 1989, the Argentine cactus moth has had two incursions in Mexico, has expanded its range along the Atlantic Coast and west along the Gulf Coast to the barrier islands of Mississippi and bayous of Louisiana, and has become an imminent threat to many Opuntia cactus species valued as a food, a forage, a wildlife habitat, and a major plant group contributing to ecosystem structure and biodiversity. Following the successful eradication of this pest from Mexico using control tactics including the sterile insect technique, scientists from the USDA-ARS Crop Protection and Management Research Unit, Tifton, GA, in collaboration with USDA-ARS-CMAVE in Tallahassee, FL, have continued to develop new control technologies that offer sustainable management options for this pest in native desert ecosystems and commercial cactus production areas, including biological control. In cooperation with scientists from FuEDEI (Fundación Para el Estudio de Especies Invasivas), Argentina, we examined the host range of a newly described larval parasitoid of the cactus moth through field surveys and laboratory bioassays. These studies indicated that this parasitoid, Apanteles opuntiarum, native to Argentina has a very narrow host range in Argentina. These scientists, in cooperation with scientists from USDA-APHIS and Florida Department of Agriculture, Division of Plant Industry, collected A. opuntiarum from the field in Argentina and established a colony in a quarantine facility in Gainesville, FL, for further testing of its potential host range on North American lepidopteran species.


Review Publications
Carpenter, J.E., Hight, S.D. 2012. Rearing the oligophagous Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepideptera: Pyralidae) on meridic diets without host plant materials. Florida Entomologist. 95(4):1132-1141.

Carpenter, J.E., Blomefield, T., Hight, S.D. 2013. Comparison of laboratory and field bioassays of lab-reared Cydia pomonella (Lepidoptera: Tortricidae) quality and field performance. Journal of Applied Entomology. 137:631-540. DOI:10.1111/jen.12039.

Varone, L., Mariana, M., Logarzo, G.A., Briano, J., Hight, S.D., Carpenter, J.E. 2012. Performance of cactoblastis cactorum (Berg)(Lepidoptera:Pyralidae) on South and North American Opuntia species occurring in Argentina. Florida Entomologist. 95(4):1163-1173.

Last Modified: 11/28/2014
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