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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Gainesville, Florida » Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology » Insect Behavior and Biocontrol Research » Research » Research Project #431379

Research Project: Biological Control of the Harrisia Cactus Mealybug, Hypogeococcus sp. (Hemiptera: Pseudococcidae), of Puerto Rico

Location: Insect Behavior and Biocontrol Research

Project Number: 6036-22000-031-09-I
Project Type: Interagency Reimbursable Agreement

Start Date: Oct 1, 2016
End Date: Aug 30, 2018

The broad objective of this project is to support a biological control program against the Harrisia cactus mealybug, Hypogeococcus sp., a pest of columnar cactus in Puerto Rico. This new mealybug pest has invaded an area of about 1,400 square km in Puerto Rico, where there are 13 species of susceptible native cactus; three of these species are endemic and two are endangered. The pest also threatens native cactus in other Caribbean islands and North America. Previous work on natural enemies of the mealybug in its perceived South American native range determined the mealybug to be a species complex. The overall project includes the following objectives: 1) identify and describe the Hypogeococcus spp. occurring in Puerto Rico and South America through molecular genetics and morphological techniques; 2) collect and identify parasitoids of the mealybug in South America; 3) conduct preliminary host range studies of South American parasitoids in Argentina; and 4) deliver promising parasitoids as biological control agents to a Puerto Rican quarantine facility. Benefits of the proposed activities will be to limit population growth of the Harrisia cactus mealybug through the introduction of natural enemies that effectively attack the target mealybug without attacking non-target mealybugs.

The overall research approach includes the following: (1) Collect Hypogeococcus (H.) spp. on different host plants in various countries, in particular, Hypogeococcus spp. on Portulacaceae, Amaranthaceae, and Cactaceae in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay; (2) Identify the various H. pungens complex components found in Puerto Rico, Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina using molecular genetic techniques; (3) Describe new species and re-describe previously studied valid species of all components of the H. pungens species complex found in Puerto Rico, Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina using morphological techniques; (4) Conduct surveys for natural enemies of Hypogeococcus spp. in unexplored areas of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, and collect specimens to increase the genetic pool of the laboratory colonies of known parasitoids; (5) Describe and identify collected parasitoids of Hypogeococcus spp.; (6) Complete bionomic studies including functional response of the most promising biological control candidates; (7) Obtain export permits for the most important parasitoids in Argentina and Paraguay for delivery to Puerto Rico quarantine facility; (8) Conduct host specificity tests in Argentina of important parasitoids with target and non-target species, including Hypogeococcus spp. and other common mealybug genera; (9) Export parasitoids to Puerto Rico quarantine facility.