2013 Annual Report
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.