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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Research Project: Enhanced Mitigation Techniques for Control of Cactoblastis cactorum

Location: Insect Behavior and Biocontrol Research Unit

2013 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416):
The broad objective of this project is to improve control tactics for Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae), an invasive cactus-feeding moth that has rapidly expanded its geographical range along both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, invaded the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, and threatens the Opuntia-based agriculture and ecosystems in the southwestern USA and Mexico. Specific objectives of this project are to develop control tactics that can be integrated into the containment of this pest at the leading edge of its geographical range, and the eradication of this pest at point infestations that may occur beyond the leading edge. The primary tactics of control are biological control with a host specific parasitoid from Argentina, and disruption of insect pheromone communication systems (both adult mating and larval movement).


1b.Approach (from AD-416):
The research and development approach will include: (1) collaborate in the host range determination and impact evaluation of a newly discovered Argentine parasitoid of C. cactorum; (2) collect non-target cactus-feeding Lepidoptera for host range testing in US, Florida quarantine; (3) arrange and conduct pheromone mating disruption trials at Opuntia plantations in Argentina; (4) collaborate in field bioassay trials in Florida to evaluate the potential to use the C. cactorum larval trail-following pheromone.


3.Progress Report:

This research relates directly to Objective 3. Develop and refine control strategies for invasive species infesting non-traditional agricultural settings, in particular the Argentine cactus moth and Chinese tallow.

This research is a continuation of ongoing collaboration in which ARS-Tallahassee has provided critical research and technology transfer to the USA-Mexico Binational Abatement Program Against the Invasive Cactus Moth Pest. The invasive cactus moth is native to Argentina and was found in Florida in 1989. Caterpillars of this moth eat prickly pear cactus and threaten the cactus-based agriculture and ecosystems in the southwestern USA and Mexico. The moth has spread along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts and now occurs as far west as Louisiana and north to Charleston, SC. Development and implementation of the sterile insect technique (SIT) along with host plant removal was successful at slowing the spread of this insect and eradicating outbreak populations on islands in Alabama, Mississippi, and Mexico. However, funding levels were reduced and became inadequate to sustain the area-wide program necessary to stop the moth’s spread. The program now emphasizes the development of more sustainable control tactics against this pest, including classical biological control and the disruption of pheromone communication systems (adult and larval). Scientists from the USDA-ARS Center for Medical, Agricultural, Veterinary Entomology, Tallahassee, FL, in collaboration with scientists from USDA-ARS-CPMRU, Tifton, GA, and FuEDEI (Fundación Para el Estudio de Especies Invasivas), Argentina, examined the native host range of a newly described larval parasitoid of the cactus moth through field surveys and laboratory bioassays in Argentina. Studies indicated that this parasitoid 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 the parasitoid in Argentina and established a laboratory test colony in a quarantine facility in Gainesville, FL. Host specificity tests on native North American lepidopteran species are being conducted in the quarantine. Scientists with USDA-ARS Tallahassee, USDA-ARS Tifton, and FuEDEI collaborated on field trials in Argentina on a formulation of the ARS-developed synthetic female cactus moth sex pheromone as a mating disruption tactic. In pheromone-treated plots, mating and oviposition of the cactus moth were significantly reduced when compared to plots not treated with pheromone.


Last Modified: 12/19/2014
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