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Archive for the ‘Monitoring’ Category

Update: New Pest & Disease Records (05 December 2022)

This month’s pest alerts include the isolation and identification of the top blight pathogen of Passiflora edulis (photograph by Earth100).

We’ve selected a few of the latest new geographic, host and species records for plant pests and diseases from CAB Abstracts. Records this month include information about a new virus disease of sunflower from Nebraska and the isolation and identification of the top blight pathogen of Passiflora edulis.


To view all search results for new geographic, host and species records for plant pests and diseases, click here or to view results by your location click here.

If there’s another new record you’d like to highlight, please post a comment.

View past pest alerts

Plant pests and diseasesnew geographic recordsnew host recordsnew speciespest alertsplant diseasesplant healthplant pests

Agriculture and International DevelopmentCrop healthPlant Sciences

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Growers can use a test kit to detect ToBRFV before plants even shows signs

Knowing, for sure, that your crop is infected before the plants show signs. Growers have wanted that since the Tomato brown rugose fruit virus (TOBRFV) reared its ugly head. And preferably quickly, too. This summer, the Dutch company Spark Radar launched a grower test kit for that. Growers can use it to detect, with high reliability and within three hours, whether their crop is contaminated.

According to Spark Rader’s co-founder, Rogier van der Voort, its virus test’s reliability and sensitivity can well well-compared to that of a PCR test. “However, you don’t have to send our test’s samples to a service lab. That saves considerable time – crucial when detecting and containing a possible outbreak.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, he and Bas Rutjens, who founded Spark Genetics, put their heads together. That company has been supporting breeding companies with genetics issues since 2018. “When the pandemic began, the laboratory had to partially close. We started asking ourselves how we could offer the market something that was much needed. That had to be a reliable, sensitive pathogen test that anyone could perform on-site,” says Rogier.

Testing before symptoms show
The test works pre-symptomatically, meaning you can test for the virus’ presence early. Rogier draws a parallel with COVID-19. “You can now do a self-test for that. But, that’s an antigen test you use when you’re already showing symptoms.” In the case of the coronavirus, for example, a runny nose.

One of the ToBRFV’s symptoms is spots on the fruit or signs on leaves. “Antigen tests, however, aren’t as reliable as PCR tests, and their lower sensitivity means they don’t work pre-symptomatically. You can also only test two to three plants at once,” Rogier explains.

Leaf material
Currently, growers can test 60 plants at a time using Spark Radar test kits. Testing can be done in three ways. “We started with leaf samples. A piece of leaf the size of a fingernail is enough. Growers collect the leaf sample in a bag we provide, and once collected, testing can begin.”

The test kits include the test material and hardware so that growers can run the tests themselves. “We’ve developed equipment to read the tests. We use magnetic and sensing racks for that. The magnetic rack lets us extract the virus from the sample, which helps ensure our tests’ high sensitivity,” Van der Voort continues.


A part of the test kit. The white container is lined with magnets. Detection is done using a different rack.

Surface and water tests
Growers, however, prefer to test more than just leaf material. “There’s plenty of market demand for swab tests too, which allows for testing for the presence of the virus on things like carts or blades. It’s like the cotton swab you use in your throat and nose when doing a COVID-19 self-test.”

They developed a third testing protocol for water. “Growers can test for the ToBRFV in, say, their drainage system,” Rogier elaborates. These last two testing methods are currently in their final market introduction stages. “We’re fully in the testing phase for these new applications and are using trial feedback to make the swab and water test kits are durable as possible.” The company plans to market these two testing kits in December commercially.

International
Spark Radar also wants to start offering the kits internationally, and this fledgling company has taken the first steps toward that. “A large North American party has been using our test for several months. They want to deploy it more widely during the next harvest period. We have a commitment from a Dutch party with overseas farms too. They want to use our tests outside the Netherlands,” states Rogier.

A virus test must be reliable. The test kits, thus, include a clear manual (you can also watch an online video). For now, it is in Dutch and English, but the company wants to include other languages as well. “We’re currently focusing on producing the tests. We’ve gained new clients after presenting the test at a recent event.”

Testing for other pathogens
ToBRFV is undoubtedly receiving global attention. That begs the question: Does Spark Radar have the clout to help growers combat this virus? Spark Radar’s co-founder thinks so. “We were recently chosen to participate in the Foodvalley and government investment fund, InvestNL’s Fast Lane program. We had to give an answer to what’s needed to become even more influential, scale up and maintain our test’s current and projected speed.”

That speed does not only apply to the ToBRFV but to other plant viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Spark Radar is also working on a test kit for cucumber fur virus and Pepino mosaic virus in tomatoes. “Those will be similar tests to the ToBRFV ones,” concludes Rogier.

For more information:
Rogier van der Voort
Spark Radar
8 Padualaan
3584 CH, Utrecht, NL
Email: rogier@sparkgenetics.com 
Email: info@sparkradar.bio 
Website: www.sparkradar.bio

Publication date: Fri 25 Nov 2022

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Sunday, 06 November 2022 09:58:58

PestNet

Grahame Jackson posted a new submission ‘Banana freckle eradication plan to continue ‘

Submission

Banana freckle eradication plan to continue

Mirage News
https://www.miragenews.com/banana-freckle-eradication-plan-to-continue-888986/

NT Government
The Northern Territory’s plant biosecurity team will continue with a plan to eradicate banana freckle following its detection on a second commercial property.

Members of the plant biosecurity team from the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade met with the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests on Wednesday where it was agreed that it was still feasible to eradicate the disease.

The team will now redraft a Response Plan for approval by the National Management Group later this month.

The detection of banana freckle on the second commercial property triggered a review of the response plan.

As a result, the plant biosecurity team will continue with its work to remove banana plants from infected properties.

So far infected plants have been removed from 14 properties. There have been 48 total banana freckle detections since May, of which 42 are located in the Batchelor and Rum Jungle region.

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.


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Agdia launches rapid molecular test kit for tomato mottle mosaic virus

Agdia has launched a RNA-based assay, on their AmplifyRP XRT platform, for the detection of Tomato mottle mosaic virus (ToMMV). 

Global tomato and pepper production has been significantly disrupted in recent years by emerging pathogens. One such pathogen, Tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV, Tobamovirus), is thought to have caused billions of dollars in damage to the tomato industry alone over the past few years. While advancements in breeding for pathogen resistance traits over the past two decades have largely protected tomato and pepper crop production from viral threats, ToBRFV was able to bypass resistance with devastating consequences. The virus continues to cause disruption of the global seed supply chain along with affecting yield and marketability of tomato fruit when not properly excluded from production facilities.

Much like ToBRFV, Tomato mottle mosaic virus is also able to break through well-established viral resistance traits, and thus represents yet another significant threat to tomato and pepper production worldwide.

Initially found in tomato crops in Mexico in 2013, Tomato mottle mosaic virus has since been detected in the United States, Brazil, Europe, Africa, Asia and Iran. Several other Tobamovirus-infected samples collected prior to 2013 which were previously attributed to Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) or Tomato mosaic virus (ToMV) have since been distinguished as ToMMV infections via high-specificity molecular methods which were not previously available.

Symptoms caused by ToMMV infection include mottling, necrosis, flower abortion and leaf distortion. Much like other Tobamoviruses, ToMMV is highly transmissible via mechanical means (pruning, harvesting, etc.) and may also be present in seed, although further studies are needed to demonstrate whether vertical transmission occurs at any significant level.

Agdia’s AmplifyRP XRT for ToMMV has been validated for use with tomato and pepper seeds and leaf in addition to other secondary matrixes such as peas (Pisum sativum) and petunia. As a rapid, field-deployable molecular method requiring far less training than traditional PCR methods, this assay provides users with greater flexibility to deploy detection capabilities where they need it, when they need it. Use cases for this assay include, but are not limited to:

  • In-field monitoring at remote production sites as a stand-alone assay.
  • Screening incoming plantlets & monitoring production crops in commercial greenhouses
  • Laboratory-based molecular diagnosis with crude or purified extracts with faster time-to-result than traditional PCR or qPCR methods. This assay can be used with Agdia’s AmpliFire isothermal fluorometer or with most real-time PCR machines.

Agdia’s AmplifyRP XRT for ToMMV is highly specific to ToMMV and has been proven through experimentation and in-silico analysis to detect isolates from around the world. No cross-reactivity was observed with high titer samples from other Tobamoviruses, including Cucumber green mottle mosaic virus (CGMMV), Kyuri green mottle mosaic virus (KGMMV), Pepper mild mottle virus (PMMoV), Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), Tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV), Tomato mosaic virus (ToMV), Tobacco mild green mosaic virus (TMGMV), Zucchini Green Mottle Mosaic Virus (ZGMMV) and more.

For more information:
Agdia 
52642 County Road 1
Elkhart, IN 46514
phone 1-574-264-2615
fax 1-574-264-2153
info@agdia.com
www.agdia.com

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Otto: the IPM scouting and yield forecasting greenhouse robot

The Biobest, ecoation and Bogaerts partnership has resulted in the an autonomous IPM scouting and Yield Forecasting robot for greenhouses. The Belgian-Canadian claims it’s world’s first autonomous IPM scouting and Yield Forecasting robot. 

The autonomous robot, OTTO, is equipped with ecoation’s 360 “Virtual Walk” camera, a Universal Model for object detection, 3D climate and light measurement per sqm and a patented multi-modal “Plant Health Sensor” that can flag various crop health issues at early stages and inform growers for further investigation. The robot can navigate the greenhouse autonomously and it can work during the day and night.


ecoation

OTTO is a member of a suite of offerings that provides autonomous “Find & Fix” solutions for greenhouses. Bogaerts has already introduced UVc robots for disease control. The partnership will soon bring a spot-treatment sprayer solution and biological dispersal robots (T-Bot) that work seamlessly with the collaborative technology ecosystem. This ecosystem includes mobile platforms, trap scanning technology, IPM and Yield forecasting solutions, greenhouse drones, and robots for other labour-intensive tasks such as harvesting and deleafing. The ecosystem is designed in such a way that growers can easily migrate all of the existing historical data that they collected manually or through other platforms to the new ecosystem without missing valuable insights and have control over all of the greenhouse AI and robotics solutions in one place.


ecoation

“Our core philosophy is to provide the best solution that addresses the needs of the industry. Quality and customer support are in our DNA and when that is mixed with innovation and forward-looking design and development, it results in a platform that can become a staple in the industry,’ says Dr. Saber Miresmailli, Founder and CEO of ecoation. “To be able to offer the best solution, one needs to work with the best providers. Therefore, we chose Bogaerts and Biobest as our partners. We aspire to provide the highest level of quality and service.” He continued.

“With ecoation, we have reached an important milestone. Now we have a clear and digital overview of the plant health in the greenhouse.” Says Joris Bogaert, CEO of Bogaerts Greenhouse Logistics. “Bogaerts has been eagerly awaiting to interface this information with the Qii-Jet TA spray machines, allowing us to spray just the spot of the greenhouse with the right pesticide. This will save time, reduce labour costs and save on pesticides, helping to make the world more green. We are eager to install the first application in practice.”

For more information:
Ecoation
www.ecoation.com
info@ecoation.com        

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First plant disease detection found in California; quarantine in place

Steve Angeles | TFC News California

Posted at Oct 27 2022 12:14 PM

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HLB on young tree

In Southern California, state agriculture officials are expanding a citrus plant quarantine in Los Angeles county after the citrus disease Huanglongbing (HLB) was detected in Pomona. 

Asian citrus psyllid

The plant disease is not harmful to people or animals but can greatly affect citrus plants. HLB is spread from plant to plant by the Asian citrus psyllid. Once a tree is infected it cannot be cured. 

ACP

According to the Citrus Pest & Disease program’s press release, a citrus plant quarantine is in place throughout portions of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. To further limit the spread of the pest that can carry HLB, there are additional quarantines in place that make it illegal to bring citrus fruit or plant material into California from other states or countries. 

The new quarantine map can be found at https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/citrus/pests_diseases/hlb/regulation.html.

Yellowing leaves

All citrus trees including, lemons, oranges, and limes can be affected by HLB.

While an outbreak of HLB could impact local citrus industries, backyard gardeners also need to be cautious. 

An estimated 60% of California homeowners own citrus trees, and a popular one among Filipino homes, is calamansi. 

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Read More:  Huanglongbing   HLB   Asian Citrus Psyllid   ACP   plant disease   quarantine   TFC News  

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Sunday, 23 October 2022 08:06:17

PestNet

Grahame Jackson posted a new submission ‘Determining the potential distribution of Oryctes monoceros and Oryctes rhinoceros by combining machine-learning with high-dimensional multidisciplinary environmental variables’

Submission

Determining the potential distribution of Oryctes monoceros and Oryctes rhinoceros by combining machine-learning with high-dimensional multidisciplinary environmental variables

Nature
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-21367-1

Abstract

The African coconut beetle Oryctes monoceros and Asiatic rhinoceros beetle O. rhinoceros have been associated with economic losses to plantations worldwide. Despite the amount of effort put in determining the potential geographic extent of these pests, their environmental suitability maps have not yet been well established. Using MaxEnt model, the potential distribution of the pests has been defined on a global scale. The results show that large areas of the globe, important for production of palms, are suitable for and potentially susceptible to these pests. The main determinants for O. monoceros distribution were; temperature annual range, followed by land cover, and precipitation seasonality. The major determinants for O. rhinoceros were; temperature annual range, followed by precipitation of wettest month, and elevation. The area under the curve values of 0.976 and 0.975, and True skill statistic values of 0.90 and 0.88, were obtained for O. monoceros and O. rhinoceros, respectively. The global simulated areas for O. rhinoceros (1279.00 × 104 km2) were more than that of O. monoceros (610.72 × 104 km2). Our findings inform decision-making and the development of quarantine measures against the two most important pests of palms.


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Scientific Reports

  1. nature  
  2. scientific reports  
  3. articles  
  4. article

Predicting potential global and future distributions of the African armyworm (Spodoptera exempta) using species distribution models

Scientific Reports volume 12, Article number: 16234 (2022) Cite this article

Abstract

Invasive species have historically been a problem derived from global trade and transport. To aid in the control and management of these species, species distribution models (SDMs) have been used to help predict possible areas of expansion. Our focal organism, the African Armyworm (AAW), has historically been known as an important pest species in Africa, occurring at high larval densities and causing outbreaks that can cause enormous economic damage to staple crops. The goal of this study is to map the AAW’s present and potential distribution in three future scenarios for the region, and the potential global distribution if the species were to invade other territories, using 40 years of data on more than 700 larval outbreak reports from Kenya and Tanzania. The present distribution in East Africa coincides with its previously known distribution, as well as other areas of grassland and cropland, which are the host plants for this species. The different future climatic scenarios show broadly similar potential distributions in East Africa to the present day. The predicted global distribution shows areas where the AAW has already been reported, but also shows many potential areas in the Americas where, if transported, environmental conditions are suitable for AAW to thrive and where it could become an invasive species.

Introduction

Global trade and transport have historically led to the movement of organisms, mostly for domestication, farming, etc. where they are in a controlled environment1,2. However, some movements of species are unintentional and can result in species becoming invasive in these new areas3,4,5. Invasive species, therefore, can produce massive economic and environmental damage due to their ability to spread without limitations6,7,8; and insects, being the most diverse group of organisms on Earth, are also one of the most invasive9. Some of the major problems caused by invasive insects include human disease vectors and agricultural and forest pests10, often impacting the health and economy of the countries affected11. Some well-known recent examples of invasive agricultural pests are the cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa armigera (Hübner), the diamondback moth, Plutella xylostella (Linnaeus), and the fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda (J. E. Smith)12,13,14.

The African Armyworm (AAW) is the larval stage of the noctuid moth Spodoptera exempta (Walker, 1856). Like other armyworms15, AAW is considered a major pest species, historically the most important after locusts in parts of Africa16,17. AAW often occurs at high larval densities, causing outbreaks and, therefore, significant economic damage to crops and pasturelands16,18. The species is widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, where it especially affects Central, Eastern and Southern Africa, but the presence of the species has also been reported in Arabia, Southeast Asia, and Australia19,20,21. AAW caterpillars are a major pest of cereals and grasses, including some of the most economically important crops such as maize, rice or wheat22. Generally, low-density populations of the larvae persist throughout the continent, usually going unnoticed as they are in small numbers and have a cryptic coloration23. Many studies (e.g.24,25,26) have pointed out that it is after the first (short) rainy season in East Africa (around November or December) that the ‘primary’ (first) outbreaks occur. These outbreaks are caused by the mating and oviposition of the adult moths emerging from the low-density (dry season) populations, which are dispersed and scattered by the rainy season winds and end up concentrating in patchy areas where rainfall occurs27,28, that is thought to be due to convergent wind flows23. After these primary outbreaks, the long rainy season initiates a series of ‘secondary’ outbreaks, throughout eastern and central Africa, which may cause massive damage to crops, and can be monitored and predicted thanks to meteorological observation and monitoring27,29,30. In some countries, like Zambia, its maize production in 2012–2013 was reduced by 11% due to AAW attack31 and in 2017 it was estimated that 30–40% of the crop production could have been lost due to this pest32.

Since at least 1930, AAW outbreaks and moth trap data, as well as some meteorological data, have been collected in the most affected countries, including Kenya and Tanzania16,21. Subsequently, these data have been digitised and incorporated into data management and information systems, such as WormBase33, which was developed in the 1990s to aid in the prediction of AAW outbreaks. In the present study, we use forty years of AAW outbreak data to model the environmental suitability of the pest.

Species distribution models (SDMs) are modern tools that are used to characterize and predict the present and future distribution of a species, using species distribution data and environmental variables that affect, directly or indirectly, the species’ ecological niche or environmental suitability34,35,36. This provides a very useful tool for pest management activities, as it can help identify areas where the species might be present or vulnerable areas for the pest37,38,39. SDMs have been used to model the environmental suitability of other similar pest species, such as the fall armyworm, S. frugiperda, FAW, which is native to the Americas, but has recently invaded and spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa, into areas where the African armyworm is endemic14. This work was used to predict new areas in the world that could be suitable for FAW expansion, including parts of Asia and Oceania; predictions that have subsequently been realised (https://www.fao.org/fall-armyworm/monitoring-tools/faw-map/en/). Although the distribution of S. exempta in Africa and Arabia has been well established for at least 40 years21, and much is known about its feeding and migratory behaviour16, there is little information about its broader environmental requirements.

In this study, we generate the first predictive environmental suitability models for the African armyworm, using species distribution modelling techniques. We use occurrence data from reported larval outbreaks in Kenya and Tanzania, and variable selection methods to define the principal environmental variables that affect the geographical distribution of S. exempta. The generated models, which are local to Kenya and Tanzania, predict the present and future environmental suitability of the species under three different future-climate scenarios. For predicting the present suitability, we used the outbreak data from 1969 to 1990 and contrasted the generated model with the rest of the data, from 1991 to 2008. This meant we validated our model against data that are more independent than used in the majority of SDM studies, a highly recommended approach40. For the three future climate scenario models, we used all the outbreak data from Kenya and Tanzania, from 1969 to 2008 to forecast the 2061–2080 time period. We also model the global environmental suitability for the species by extrapolating these local data to the rest of the world to assess its invasion potential. Finally, we determine if models suggest that the African armyworm’s future distribution will likely intersect areas of cropland, which could demonstrate a need for preventive and control measures to target the vulnerable areas before they are attacked.

Results

Variable selection

The variable selection through PCA narrowed the environmental suitability components to five (Table 1). The variables are related to temperature and precipitation, and the AAW response to them can be seen in Fig. 1. Bioclim 07 (temperature range throughout the year) suggests that AAW do best in locations where the temperature variation is greater than around 12 °C annually. Variable Bioclim 08 is related to temperature during the wettest quarter and seems to suggest that AAW prefer temperatures between 15 and 25 °C during the rainy season, and anything greater than 25 °C is much less suitable. Variable Bioclim 15 is related to the seasonality of precipitation and suggests that AAW do best when rainfall varies by around 80–100 mm annually. Finally, Bioclim 13 and 17 are related to the amount of precipitation during the wet and dry season, respectively. During the wettest month, it seems to require a minimum of around 100 mm rain, but also seems to have a maximum of around 300 mm rain, above which it is less suitable, perhaps indicating its susceptibility to floods. During the driest quarter, it seems to be more versatile and can tolerate a wide range of precipitation, but there appears to be a minimum rainfall of around 10 mm, indicating that is also susceptible to drought.Table 1 Variables selected by the PCA for the S. exempta environmental suitability models.

Full size table

figure 1
Figure 1

Model performance

The receiver operation characteristic (ROC) curve is a graphical way of illustrating the model’s ability to distinguish between binary classes at various threshold settings, and area under the curve (AUC) of the ROC is a value that measures the degree to which these classes can be distinguished between. This means that the closer to 1 the AUC value is, the better the model will be at separating classes, which in this case would be the environmental suitability of the species. AUC values of our models are considered to be ‘excellent’41, and TSS, values are considered ‘moderate’ and ‘substantial’42, therefore showing a good performance of the models, and that they are robust and accurate (Table 2). This indicates that the ecological suitability suggested by the generated models resemble the real probability of occurrence of the species, and therefore, its possible distribution.Table 2 Internal evaluation statistics for the generated species distribution models (SDMs) generated.

Full size table

Environmental suitability of S. exempta

Present-time environmental suitability models for the AAW in Kenya and Tanzania (Fig. 2A) show high suitability in the south and west of Kenya and the north and centre of Tanzania. These areas coincide with the occurrence points from the outbreak data used (blue dots in Fig. 2A); outbreaks are usually reported on crops such as maize, so it is likely that environmental suitability overlaps with agricultural land use. These suitable areas also coincide with sub-humid and tropical highlands; the paler or non-suitable areas coincide with more arid conditions, such as north-eastern Kenya43. Figure 2B shows a land use map extracted from Ref.44, indicating that the vegetation in the suitable areas of our model (Fig. 2A) are mainly grasslands, savannas and croplands. Regarding the prediction of the 1991–2008 outbreaks, all the points (yellow dots in Fig. 2A) seem to fall in areas with medium to high suitability, with AUC = 0.90, considered as ‘excellent’41, which indicates the model can accurately predict the areas that are suitable for outbreaks in the near future.

figure 2
Figure 2

Future and worldwide environmental suitability scenarios

Figure 3 presents three maps that show the difference in environmental suitability between present-time and three different CO2 emission scenarios between 2061 and 2080 in Kenya and Tanzania. The outputs of the three scenarios are very similar to each other. Scenario SSP1-2.6 (a gradual decline in CO2 emissions) show fewer gained areas (74,075 km2) than lost (109,500 km2), and the same happens with the extreme CO2 emission increase scenario—SSP5-8.5 (70,425 km2 of gained areas; 161,425 km2 of lost areas). Gained areas (109,625 km2) for scenario SSP3-7.0 (gradual increase in CO2 emissions), are however similar to the lost areas (106,350 km2). These results depict a future where the species seems to have a limited spread. Gained areas coincide mainly with cropland and grassland45,46. This all suggests that climate change might help the AAW distribution to expand and take over areas of grassland and cropland; but also limit its expansion in other areas where too many emissions might destroy these grasses and crops.

figure 3
Figure 3

The world environmental suitability model shows a marked high suitability in tropical areas, especially related to high, but not extreme, temperatures and precipitation (Fig. 4). It appears that the suitability overlaps the distribution of grasses, which is historically the main food source of the AAW, as it is noticeable in the Savannas, Pampas and Veldts, and seems to be delimited by arid areas and tropical deserts (e.g. Sahara, Kalahari, Atacama, etc.) as well as areas of extreme rainfall like rainforests (e.g. Amazon, Congo River Basin, South East Asia and Australian). However, as the models have only been constructed with climatic variables and not land use rasters, we cannot be completely certain that these forested areas could be suitable if converted to agriculture.

figure 4
Figure 4

When looking at the recorded distribution of AAW globally21 (Fig. 5), it very much resembles the world environmental suitability model (Fig. 4). Grey areas show where the projections are extrapolated outside of the climate conditions used to build the SDM, according to the results of the MESS approach47. Projections in these areas should be treated with extreme caution, as there is no way of knowing how accurate they are. In Africa, there is high suitability in the eastern, western, and central areas, where larval infestations have been recorded, even on the west of southern Africa. Madagascar is also predicted to be suitable for AAW outbreaks, although no larval infestations have been recorded there to our knowledge, but moth specimens have been found, indicating the possibility of being there. In Arabia, which has extensive larval infestations, only a limited area is predicted to be suitable, and with only medium suitability, probably due to it not being a very suitable climate, but in practice, irrigation could have permitted its viability and expansion. There is very high suitability in the west and south of India, and Sri Lanka (Figs. 45), which coincides with the ghats where grasses are present, but the species has not yet been recorded there. Many AAW larval infestations and outbreaks have been reported in southern (but not northern) parts of Southeast Asia and the western Australian coast, coinciding with areas of medium to high suitability. With the exception of Hawaii48—where the model shows high suitability—the species has never been reported in the Americas. Nonetheless, the model does predict very high environmental suitability in some countries like Brazil, Colombia and Mexico (Fig. 4), which sets an alarm for its potential distribution and settlement if the species was to reach those areas. All this indicates that the model has been able to predict most of the actual worldwide distribution, using a database limited to a relatively small area in East Africa, and therefore, that it is a robust model.

figure 5
Figure 5

Discussion

In a world in which crop production often revolves around extensive monocultures, and global changes in climate and trade facilitate the spread of insect crop pests, there is increased potential for the introduction and spread of invasive species49,50,51. Understanding the environmental requirements of potentially invasive crop pests can identify areas at threat and facilitate targeted monitoring. Some authors have previously tried to do this by generating current or potential Species Distribution Models. Examples include important invasive pest species, such as the cotton bollworm, H. armigera, the diamondback moth, P. xylostella, the gypsy moth, Lymantria dispar (L.), the spotted wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii (Matsamura), the European paper wasp, Polistes dominula (Christ), and the fall armyworm, S. frugiperda12,13,14,52,53. In this study we have constructed SDMs for the African armyworm, S. exempta, a pest endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. Our results identify those climatic variables that seem most important in determining the geographical distribution of AAW and provide a robust SDM for Kenya and Tanzania in the present time, as well as three different future climate change scenarios. We expand this to a predictive worldwide model that identifies areas, especially in the Americas and South Asia, where AAW has the potential to become invasive if it were introduced.

Selected variables for the environmental suitability of African armyworm outbreaks are mainly related to annual temperature variation and precipitation, especially during the wettest quarter, which is the rainy season. The rainy season plays an important role in the movement of AAW adults in Africa, as the winds that occur during it are key for the dispersal of the adult moths. Existing literature23,26,29,54 indicates that adult moths migrate along the dominant winds to grassland areas or crops, where they feed, causing subsequent larval outbreaks in nearby areas where they can disperse or migrate to. Precipitation outside the rainfall season is important for the low density populations of AAW that persist in these areas where outbreaks have occurred, during the dry season, as it stimulates the growth of grasses, providing the AAW with suitable habitats for feeding and breeding55, which could explain why variables like ‘precipitation seasonality’ or ‘precipitation of the driest quarter’ have been identified as important explanatory variables. Nonetheless, the areas where outbreaks occur (which we modelled) are not always the same as the ones where low-density populations settle (which we did not explicitly model). Temperature changes affect the species distribution too because, being ectotherms, their development and survival are temperature-dependent56.

The local present-time model depicts a robust environmental suitability for S. exempta in Kenya and Tanzania (Fig. 2A). Low environmental suitability coincides with arid or semi-arid areas, which may seem evident as extreme temperatures and dry conditions are not ideal for the development of its eggs and pupae56,57. Indeed, water and ambient humidity scarcity can affect the water balance of insects, impacting their survival, development and even their population dynamics, as seen in similar species, the FAW58. Climatic conditions in these areas can also affect its suitability indirectly. For example, changes in the water content and concentration of nitrogen and other minerals of the host plants, can negatively impact AAW adults’ fitness59. Additionally, plants that grow in arid or semi-arid areas are not suitable host plants of the AAW16, which mainly feeds on Graminae, and these require a certain level of humidity for their development. According to the generated model, sub-humid and tropical highlands are the most suitable areas for the AAW and, the known distribution of the AAW, besides the biology of the species, coincide with these areas. During the dry season, low-density armyworm populations are usually found in the highlands as the low temperatures extend their development16, which may explain why these tropical highlands are highly suitable. Looking at land cover and vegetation maps (e.g.44,45), the vegetation present in the suitable areas are mainly grasslands, savannas and croplands, which are the main host plants for the AAW.

The predictions of the environmental suitability for the 1991–2008 outbreaks (not included in the training dataset), appear to be accurate and robust, indicating that modelling present environmental suitability can be useful to predict outbreaks in the near future. These predictions can also be combined with population dynamic studies to predict outbreaks of the next few years, like other authors have previously done30,60,61.

Local future-scenario models (Fig. 3) are useful to predict where the species might be present in some years’ time. It is evident that climate change is altering the environmental conditions, therefore redesigning where species can live. It has been thoroughly documented that the distribution of many species is shifting to new areas, as well as disappearing from others62,63,64. This is especially important in pest management as predicting new areas could help set control measures for those areas and prevent outbreaks39,65,66. Although we produced models for three different CO2 emission scenarios, they all portray similar results, where there are suitable areas being both gained and lost. A positive side to this similarity in suitability is that management and control plans will probably be effective in all scenarios. On the other hand, it is interesting that such an aggressive pest like the AAW is predicted to show a slow expansion of their distribution, if compared to other similar pest species like processionary moths (Thaumetopoea spp.) or the box tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis)67,68. Climate change will likely alter the environmental suitability of all living organisms as it challenges their physiological limits69, and there is evidence that the geographical distribution of crop pests is moving increasingly polewards in response to climate change70,71. Due to this, it would be assumed that the expansion of the suitable areas would be much quicker or extensive, but these results might indicate the contrary, that climate change could reduce the suitable areas for its expansion. Factors affected by climate change, such as temperature, rainfall and relative humidity, seem to have mostly positive effects on fecundity and development of migratory pests like locusts72,73. However, for other lepidopteran pest species, like H. armigera, climate change has negatively affected its survival and reproduction74,75. Climate change is also reducing the amount of rainfall, which has had an impact on the ecosystem dynamics and vegetation structure of grasses in South Africa reducing grassland areas76, but also grass productivity, shifting these grasslands to shrubland and other tree-dominated biomes77,78. As grasses are the main food source for the AAW, it is coherent that all these lost suitable areas in our future scenario models might correspond to grass areas shifting to other vegetation patterns.

Global environmental suitability in the African continent resembles very much the previously reported distribution of African armyworm21 and appears in nearly all the same areas, that is, sub-humid areas, grasslands and croplands. Haggis’ study indicated that AAW has been recorded in India, South-East Asia, and Australia, where the models do predict a high environmental suitability, even though their presence there had not been used to generate it. This shows that the models are competent and can predict real areas where the species might expand into. There are areas, nevertheless, where the model does not predict high suitability, but the species has been recorded, like some parts of Indonesia, Arabia, and southern Africa. This could be due to the sample size and its limited geographic extent. Many authors (e.g.79,80) have reviewed this issue and it does seem to affect the accuracy and performance of SDMs. As our database is limited to Kenya and Tanzania, the selected variables will extrapolate to areas where the conditions are similar, that is why the prediction of suitability outside the tropics is not as accurate, as shown by the results of the MESS approach. Projections into colder regions seem likely to be inaccurate due to the variable response (Fig. 1), which have a clear upper limit. However, projections into areas with higher or lower precipitation rate might be more trustworthy due to a wider tolerance to change in precipitation26. Nonetheless, the worldwide model seems to predict an accurate environmental suitability in general.

In the global environmental suitability model, areas where the AAW has not been recorded but have a high suitability are intriguing. These are mostly in the Americas, especially between the tropics, where the climatic variables define the AAW’s niche. They also include coastal regions where there are grasses, like Pampas; or open woodlands, but also avoid tropical rainforests or arid areas due to their extreme conditions. The global environmental suitability of the AAW mirrors the environmental suitability and distribution of the FAW14 which has very similar environmental requirements, making them potentially competing species. The FAW, which is native to the American continent, was introduced into Africa, probably due to transportation of plants and crops, and rapidly spread to become one of the most important crop pests on the continent. Another example of this is H. armigera, which made a jump from Africa and Europe to the American continent13. The global model suggests that a similar thing could happen with the AAW on the American continent if it were introduced. Countries like Brazil, which is one of the world’s biggest maize producing countries could, in time, become hotspots for the AAW and enhance this global problem. Our models, and the variables used however, do not consider anthropogenic factors that could increase the migration and dispersal of S. exempta, such as global connectivity and human-mediated transport81, as it has been done for the fall armyworm14. If considered in future studies, this could confirm our findings about S. exempta ability to disperse throughout the American continents, which has already been considered as a potential risk82. This manifests the importance of revisiting and tightening international agricultural biosecurity, as invasive species are transported to new territories in a daily basis, aggravating the problem83,84.

Characterizing the climatic variables that explain or delineate the AAWs niche will help with a better understanding of the species’ biology and its possible management85. Future and global scenario models based on climatic variables, like the ones used in this study, are important to understand how invasive pest species might react to climate change or new areas if they are transported there. In fact, IPM studies often use these SDMs and niche characterization86 of important pest species such as the fall armyworm, S. frugiperda15, underlying its importance. However, to understand how the species will disperse in space and time, models should be used as part of a bigger research effort, including natural competence, or anthropogenic factors, such as bias in outbreak reporting, land use and management, transport, etc.

Finally, it is worth noting that SDMs are generally only used to predict suitable abiotic environments and seldom include detailed information regarding the presence of potential competitor species or natural enemies. Invasive fall armyworms have rapidly expanded throughout the African continent and globally88. It is considered a very aggressive and cannibalistic alien pest89,90 and feeds on a range of plant species, including the cereals and grasses that AAW specialises in, meaning there is a possibility of displacement, as it appears to be doing with other sympatric species, such as the Asiatic pink stem borer, Sesamia inferens (Walker) or the maize stalk borer, Busseola fusca (Füller)91,92. Given this, it is possible that although our SDM suggests that parts of the Americas are environmentally suitable for AAW to invade, in this environment it would be potentially competing with the native FAW, which is much more aggressive than AAW and is likely to be the stronger intra-guild competitor. It is therefore possible that AAW has previously reached the Americas but has failed to establish there due to competitive interactions with FAW or other natural enemies.

Materials and methods

Distribution data compilation

The presence records for Kenya and Tanzania were obtained from an updated version of WormBase33, which is a data management and information system that includes AAW outbreak and trap data for both countries since 1969. Outbreak data were used for the present study, where only presence records with defined geographic coordinates, following the WGS84 geographic coordinate system were used. Presence points that were inaccurate and duplicates were filtered using ArcGIS Pro. In total, 721 occurrence points, from 1984 to 2008, were obtained. 568 occurrence points were recorded from the years 1969–1990, and were used to make the first model, which predicted the current distribution.

Environmental data

Species Distribution Models (SDMs) require selecting biotic and/or abiotic environmental variables that relate to the distribution of the modelled species40, and to minimize uncertainties in modelling predictions it is important to understand which variables are more significant to the species by performing a good variable selection93.

Variables used in this study were the WorldClim Version 294 bundle of 19 global climatic layers from 1970 to 2000 in a 5 × 5 km resolution; and WorldClim CMIP Phase 6 (CIMP6)95 global climatic layers for future suitability models. We selected the 2061–2080 period for the BCC-CSM2-MR General Circulation Model (GCM)96 and three Shared Socio-economic Pathway (SSP): SSP1-2.6, which shows a gradual decline in emissions; SSP3-7.0, which would be an intermediate scenario where the CO2 emissions continue to rise in a similar fashion to now; and SSP5-8.5, which shows a dramatic rise in CO2 emissions97.

Variable selection

In previous modelling studies for the fall armyworm14, the variable selection was based on the life-history and environmental requirements for the species. Nonetheless, other studies98,99,100 suggest other analyses, such as Ecological Niche Factor Analysis (ENFA) or Principal Component Analysis (PCA), may be more robust, as they result in uncorrelated variables. This both eliminates information that might be redundant and means that the forecasts are not affected by changes in the correlation between environmental variables between time periods or regions. We followed the methodology described by Gómez-Undiano, 2018100, a method derived from Petipierre et al.98, which showed that a PCA resulted in a more accurate variable selection for better models. Therefore, we did a PCA with all the previously chosen variables and reduced the number to some main ones, based on the variance explained in the presences of S. exempta; this being the variables that had the greatest loadings on some of the PCA axes. The variables used for the future predicted suitability were the same as the ones resulting in the PCA, but from the 2021–2040 bundle. The variable selection was carried out in R v.4.0.2101 using RStudio v.1.3.1093.

Modelling environmental suitability

SDMs can be generated only with presence points but this can result in inaccurate and biased models102, so often, absence points are used too. However, absences are difficult to obtain, especially for mobile species like insects. However, studies suggest that selecting pseudo-absences, which could be generated randomly, helps to improve the quality of the models and their accuracy102,103,104. We followed the BIOMOD modelling algorithm105, using the ‘biomod2’ package106 in R for pseudo-absence generation, and selected 700 pseudo-absence points for the local distribution models in Kenya and Tanzania, to match the number of occurrences104. When extrapolating pseudo-absence data to the rest of the World, some authors107,108 suggest delimiting a geographical background to which the species could reasonably disperse, can improve SDM. We generated a background area (for the Worldwide ensemble model) of the limited area of Kenya and Tanzania to reduce extrapolation of the variables to non-analogue areas.

Predicting global suitability from a limited area, such as Kenya and Tanzania, means that predictions could be extrapolated to areas with very different climate to Kenya and Tanzania, which could be highly erroneous. To ensure the predictions are only made in areas with conditions similar to those in the data used to construct SDMs, the Multivariate Environmental Similarity Surface (MESS)47 was calculated using the R package ‘dismo’109.

Choosing one modelling statistic method can be challenging because different methods have advantages and disadvantages and tend to produce variable predictions. However, ensemble modelling results in producing more robust and reliable models110,111. We created an ensemble that includes five algorithms based on logistic regression and machine learning: artificial neural networks (ANN), classification tree analysis (CTA), flexible discriminant analysis (FDA), generalised additive models (GAM), generalised linear models (GLM), MaxEnt, random forest (RF) and Surface Range Model (or BIOCLIM). This process was undertaken using default parameters from the ‘biomod2’ package in R.

To evaluate the accuracy and robustness of the ensembled models, internal validation, which is included by default in the ‘biomod2’ setting, was used. We split the distribution data randomly into two, with 70% being used for the SDM calibration and 30% the validation set, using the area under the curve (AUC) of the receiver operation characteristic (ROC), and true skill statistic (TSS). 100 replicas were generated for each algorithm used, and models for which validation with AUC > 0.7 or TSS > 0.6 were selected to generate the final ensembles. Although studies generally use a 70–30% data split for the training and testing data e.g.14,112, we also generated additional models with different data-splits (10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 80 and 90%) to ensure the model validation was robust (Supplementary Materials). External validation of the predictive model was constructed using outbreak data from 1969 to 1990 was also performed, by calculating the AUC of the model against the outbreak points from 1991 to 2008 as the validation set.

In total, three ensemble models showing environmental suitability for S. exempta were generated: (1) a predictive local model using recent (1970–2000) environmental conditions for Kenya and Tanzania and outbreak data sub-sample from years 1969 to 1990, which was validated against more recent data (1991–2008); (2) a present-time local model for Kenya and Tanzania using all outbreak data (1969 to 2008) with three projections for three CO2 emission scenarios (A. SSP1-2.6; B. SSP3-7.0; and C. SSP5-8.5) between 2061 and 2080; and, (3) a Worldwide present-time model using all outbreak data (1969 to 2008).

When looking at the future-scenario models, it is sometimes difficult to determine which are new areas that are more or less suitable for S. exempta. To make it easier to visualise, we converted the future scenario model projections and the present time model (using all the outbreak data) into binary maps using the cut-off values, based on TSS, of each projection. Then we combined each future scenario model projection with the present time one to get a categorical map showing new suitable and non-suitable areas.

Data availability

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study will be available in the DRYAD repository, after the manuscript is accepted [https://datadryad.org/stash/share/t-EgQOweHgcOHQ_paK1ao6PQuRsnjkGCSh63_HD4n00] with DOI number [https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.sbcc2fr9b].

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank Ian Stevenson for assistance with the database and analysis and the many farmers, extension workers and government officials who contributed to data collection over the 40 years of this study.

Funding

The funding was provided by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/P023444/1).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

  1. Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UKIrene Gómez-Undiano & Kenneth Wilson
  2. State Department for Crop Development & Agricultural Research, NARL Kabete, Waiyaki Way, Nairobi, KenyaFrancis Musavi
  3. Crop Bioscience Solutions Ltd., Arusha, TanzaniaWilfred L. Mushobozi
  4. Pest Control Services, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Arusha, TanzaniaWilfred L. Mushobozi & Grace M. David
  5. CABI, Nairobi, KenyaRoger Day
  6. Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall, UKRegan Early

Contributions

I.G.U. and K.W. conceived the ideas of the project; I.G.U. designed the model and the computational framework, analysed the data, and took the lead in writing the manuscript, with the help of K.W.; R.E. aided in interpreting the results and worked on the manuscript. F.M., W.L.M., G.M.D. and R.D. contributed to the interpretation of the results and to the writing of the manuscript. All authors contributed critically to the drafts and gave final approval for publication.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Irene Gómez-Undiano.

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Scientists sleuth out an elusive plant pathogen in Mexico

For years, scientists and online databases presumed the presence of clubroot—one of the main diseases on cruciferous crops (such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale)—in Mexico. However, no evidence to support this supposition existed until a team of researchers, led by Mauricio Luna and Legnara Padrón-Rodríguez of the University of Veracruz, donned their detective caps to pinpoint the clubroot pathogen.

Since Mexico is the world’s fifth largest broccoli producer and the main supplier to the eastern United States and Canada, determining the pathogen’s presence is important when preparing for potential outbreaks. Legnara Padrón developed the detection methodology during COVID-19, causing the authors to consider what could happen if a future pandemic affects plants. The methodology involved working alongside cruciferous crops growers in Mexico and collecting soil samples from three categories of fields: fields in production, fields without cruciferous crops for up to a year, and fields that had stopped growing cruciferous crops. They were able to extract the clubroot pathogen after growing an array of cruciferous crops plants in the soil collected. Typical clubroot symptoms appeared in the roots of infected plants, and the results were confirmed using molecular methods.

Now researchers can investigate if, as suspected, the clubroot pathogen has hindered the growth of cruciferous crops in certain Mexican fields. New fields affected by the disease have been added to the ClubrootTracker, an online tool developed by Dr. Pérez-López’s group to trace the clubroot pathogen. Additionally, their results will significantly improve the future management of clubroot, safeguarding the cruciferous crops economy in Mexico and the worldwide supply of these important vegetables.

Corresponding author Edel Pérez-López comments that their “results open the door to more exciting research, like studying the genome of P. brassicae Mexican isolates, geographic distribution, and its evolution compared to other North American isolates. The strategy we followed could help detect the clubroot pathogen in other geographic areas, or potentially, other soil-borne pathogens.”

Read the complete research at www.phys.org.

Legnara Padrón-Rodríguez et al, Plasmodiophora brassicae in Mexico: From Anecdote to Fact, Plant Disease (2022). DOI: 10.1094/PDIS-11-21-2607-RE 

Publication date: Wed 14 Sep 2022

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As a grower, you want to have an overview of what’s happening in your crop at all times. This is why many growers make sure that scouting takes place at regular times. Natutec Scout is a tool developed by Koppert to make sure every grower can utilize the benefits of having all your scout data in one central place.

To accommodate growers’ way of working, Natutec Scout offers four different ways to input your data:

  • Pen and paper scouting: write down your observations on paper like you’re used to, and enter your findings straight and simply. Record your findings directly into Natutec Scout using the manual input feature. Input is easier and quicker than using Excel with all the benefits and tools that Natutec Scout provides.
  • Enter your observations on the mobile Natutec Scout app – available for both Android and iOS – in which you make your observations, provide your location, and add notes and photos if you want to add additional findings to your scouting session. This data is then uploaded to the dashboard.
  • Automatic detection of whitefly using the Horiver Scanner: Using the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for automatic whitefly counts enables you to save a significant amount of time and labor when counting the whitefly on Horiver cards. Just take a picture of a Horiver card, and you are done.
  • Import historical scout data using the Excel import functionality. You can easily load multiple years of previous scout data (averages and specifics) into Natutec Scout. You immediately get the tools at your disposal to discover trends, hotspots, and other significant events in the IPM of your crop.

The scout data are transferable. Because of that, it’s nice to work with this knowledge between everyone in your company and for your external consultant(s).

For more information:
Koppert Biological Systems
koppert.com

Publication date: Wed 14 Sep 2022

Scouting pests and diseases

As a grower, you want to have an overview of what’s happening in your crop at all times. This is why many growers make sure that scouting takes place at regular times. Natutec Scout is a tool developed by Koppert to make sure every grower can utilize the benefits of having all your scout data in one central place.

To accommodate growers’ way of working, Natutec Scout offers four different ways to input your data:

  • Pen and paper scouting: write down your observations on paper like you’re used to, and enter your findings straight and simply. Record your findings directly into Natutec Scout using the manual input feature. Input is easier and quicker than using Excel with all the benefits and tools that Natutec Scout provides.
  • Enter your observations on the mobile Natutec Scout app – available for both Android and iOS – in which you make your observations, provide your location, and add notes and photos if you want to add additional findings to your scouting session. This data is then uploaded to the dashboard.
  • Automatic detection of whitefly using the Horiver Scanner: Using the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for automatic whitefly counts enables you to save a significant amount of time and labor when counting the whitefly on Horiver cards. Just take a picture of a Horiver card, and you are done.
  • Import historical scout data using the Excel import functionality. You can easily load multiple years of previous scout data (averages and specifics) into Natutec Scout. You immediately get the tools at your disposal to discover trends, hotspots, and other significant events in the IPM of your crop.

The scout data are transferable. Because of that, it’s nice to work with this knowledge between everyone in your company and for your external consultant(s).

For more information:
Koppert Biological Systems
koppert.com

Publication date: Wed 14 Sep 2022

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Sky Islands: Isolated Mountaintops Teem With Unique Insect Communities

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For a study of the communities of parasitic wasps on mountains in the Interior Highlands of Arkansas, one of the sites chosen was Mount Magazine State Park in Arkansas, which rises 709 meters (2,326 feet) above sea level. With cooler, wetter climates than lowlands nearby, such each feature their own communities of parasitic wasps—and likely other insects—that differ from the insect fauna found on other mountains and in the surrounding valleys, according to a new study published in August in Environmental Entomology. (Photo courtesy of Allison Monroe)

By Ed Ricciuti

Ed Ricciuti

It’s not quite Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle’s Lost World of dinosaurs, but the insect life found by scientists atop so-called “sky islands” in Arkansas ranks as truly unique.

“Sky island” is a term popularized in the 1960s to describe isolated mountains with environments markedly different than that of surrounding lowlands. Conan-Doyle prefigured such environments in his story about an expedition that explored a plateau rising above jungle, where prehistoric dinosaurs, reptiles and “ape men” had survived the ages.

Although not as dramatic as dinosaurs, isolated endemic populations of animals of any size excite scientists. According to a study published in August in Environmental Entomology, such distinct assemblages of insects in the order Hymenoptera (sawflies, bees, wasps, and ants) live atop uplands in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois called the Interior Highlands.

The study, by student researchers at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, focused on parasitic wasps inhabiting three mountains, but the results can be extrapolated to other sky islands in the region and their insects in general, the researchers say.

“Given that each sky island in our study showed unique community characteristics of Hymenoptera, it is reasonable to predict that other insects follow the same pattern,” the authors write. Mountains studied were Petit Jean Mountain at 253 meters (830 feet) in elevation, Mount Magazine at 709 meters (2,326 feet) and Rich Mountain at 747 meters (2,451 feet).

overlook
field site

Parasitic Hymenoptera are a multitudinous group, with 50,000 or so identified species and perhaps millions in all. Typically, they parasitize other insects by laying their eggs in host eggs, larvae, or pupae. They are of immense ecological importance because they are fine-tuned to specific hosts, including many pest species, which they can regulate, like natural pest control managers. “We chose parasitic Hymenoptera as our focal group because they are considered bioindicators of broader diversity patterns, especially those of other insects,” the authors write.

The Interior Highlands, centered in Missouri and Arkansas and including the Ouachita Mountains and Ozark Plateau, were chosen as a study site because they have been above sea level for 320 million years, likely serving as a refuge for ecological communities avoiding the impact of the Pleistocene glaciers. The region is the only major mountainous area between the Appalachians and the Rockies, covering much more area than the Black Hills of South Dakota. Typical of the Interior Highlands, Mount Magazine is 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than normal temperatures in the landscape down below and wet, with an annual rainfall of 54 inches. Crowned with upland hardwood and upland pine-hardwood forests, these mountains rise from grasslands, with vegetation ranging from tallgrass prairie to lowland pine-hardwood and bottomland hardwood forests.

Much of the area where the research was conducted lies in state and federal lands. Sweating in the hot summer sun, the research team trekked along hiking trails from grasslands into woodlands. They set up traps, then collected insects from them.

“Though evidence is accumulating that the Interior Highlands host unique species relative to other areas of the North American continent, there is less known about how mountaintops within the region compare in terms of biodiversity,” the researchers write. “We used parasitic Hymenoptera to explore biodiversity patterns across high elevation areas in Arkansas to determine whether these patterns are similar to those exhibited by other sky island regions.”

malaise trap
research team

Each mountaintop had its distinct community of parasitoid species, indicating that the same applies to Hymenoptera in general and even to other groups of insects. On a given mountaintop, communities differed stratigraphically, with those on the ground distinct from those in the forest canopy.

The results of the study suggest the need for additional research. “Our study suggests that these highland areas are important regions of North American biodiversity and that they should be evaluated individually for conservation efforts in order to preserve their distinctive community structure,” the authors write.

Elaborating on the study, lead author Allison Monroe, says, “This study is important for a variety of reasons. Parasitic wasps are deeply important to our environment but are often overlooked if not deeply hated.”

Monroe, now a Ph.D. candidate at the Oregon State University College of Forestry, says, “Arkansas is an incredibly biodiverse state with high rates of agricultural production, yet little research exists on insect biodiversity trends and their applied impacts on diverse land management strategies within this system. We hope that this paper brings to light the extraordinary diversity housed in Arkansas, the importance of insect biodiversity more broadly, and the significance of parasites in our pursuits of nature conservation.”

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Biodiversity of Parasitic Hymenoptera Across Sky Islands of Arkansas, United States

Environmental Entomology

Ed Ricciuti is a journalist, author, and naturalist who has been writing for more than a half century. His latest book is called Bears in the Backyard: Big Animals, Sprawling Suburbs, and the New Urban Jungle (Countryman Press, June 2014). His assignments have taken him around the world. He specializes in nature, science, conservation issues, and law enforcement. A former curator at the New York Zoological Society, and now at the Wildlife Conservation Society, he may be the only man ever bitten by a coatimundi on Manhattan’s 57th Street.

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