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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 #440453

Research Project: Developing Biological Control to Mitigate the Harrisia Cactus Mealybug Damage in Puerto Rico

Location: Insect Behavior and Biocontrol Research

Project Number: 6036-22000-033-001-I
Project Type: Interagency Reimbursable Agreement

Start Date: Jul 1, 2021
End Date: Sep 13, 2023

The broad objective of this project is to develop 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 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) Transport colonies of South American biological control agents to Puerto Rican quarantine and train quarantine staff and students in colony rearing and maintenance; 2) Determine potential interactions and influence of Puerto Rican mealybug parasitoids and hyperparasitoids on the establishment success of the biological control agents; 3) Complete host specificity tests for both parasitoid species and prepare Petition to Release for APHIS-PPQ evaluation; 4) Mass rear host specific biological control agents in Puerto Rican quarantine and release against the mealybug.

The overall research approach includes the following: (1) Maintain colonies of the two parasitoid species, host insects and their host plants in Argentina; (2) Transport parasitoid colonies in Argentina to Puerto Rico; (3) Develop and refine parasitoid interaction model test to be conducted in Puerto Rico; (4) Increase size of laboratory parasitoid colonies for use in Puerto Rican quarantine; (5) Prepare and submit to APHIS Advisory Board a “Petition to Introduce the Biological Control Agents Anagyrus cachamai and Anagyrus lapachosus Into the Puerto Rican Environment Against Hypogeococcus sp.”; (6) Argentine mealybug parasitoid expert will work with Puerto Rican staff 4-6 months during the year to (a) collaborate and train Puerto Rican quarantine staff to rear the pest mealybug and parasitoids, conduct host range studies, and data collection/analysis, (b) determine interactions between parasitoids in Puerto Rico with proposed biological control agents, (c) conduct host specificity tests, (d) develop quarantine mass rearing protocol for quarantine parasitoid colonies, (e) release parasitoids into the Puerto Rican environment. (7) Prepare publications on parasitoid host specificity and rearing protocols, parasitoid host specificity outcomes, and parasitoid interactions.