Floracarus perrepae mite, a top candidate for
fighting Old World climbing fern. Click the image for more information
Underscore Mites' Promise As Climbing Fern Foe
By Marcia Wood
July 7, 2004
A tiny mite that keeps a troublesome
weed, Old World climbing fern, in check in Australia might be ideal for doing
that same job in Florida. The plant, known to scientists as Lygodium
microphyllum, has become the state's worst invasive weed.
Agricultural Research Service
entomologist John A. Goolsby at the
Control Laboratory in Indooroopilly, near Brisbane, and colleagues there
have found--for the first time--climbing fern plants in Australia that are an
exact genetic match of those in Florida. From those ferns, the researchers
collected the tan, eight-legged Floracarus perrepae mites.
Not all populations of F. perrepae mites will feed and reproduce on
the Florida fern genotype, Goolsby's team discovered.
Now, Goolsby and ARS entomologist Robert W. Pemberton, who leads the
agency's climbing fern research, are seeking federal and state permissions to
release the mites in fern-infested Florida wetlands. Pemberton is based at the
Plant Research Laboratory in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
In recent years, Goolsby, Pemberton and their fellow investigators have
combed the globe in search of natural enemies of the fern.
F. perrepae mites feed on and damage the edges of fern leaves, called
fronds. That causes the fronds to swell and form tight curls that the mites
then use for food and shelter. The damaged frond tissue eventually falls off,
reducing the amount of frond surface that's available to capture the light that
the fern needs for making its food.
In Florida, Old World climbing fern smothers native plants by forming dense
mats along the ground, and by climbing, vine-like, up shrub stems and tree
trunks, creating massive walls of flammable, dark-green vegetation.
ARS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's
chief scientific research agency, operates the Indooroopilly lab in cooperation
with Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and
Industrial Research Organization.
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