UMass Amherst entomologists begin to control winter moth infestation in eastern Massachusetts

September 07, 2011

AMHERST, Mass. - A six-year campaign to control invasive winter moths with a natural parasite led by entomologist Joe Elkinton of the University of Massachusetts Amherst now has concrete evidence that a parasitic fly, Cyzenis albicans, has been established and is attacking the pest at four sites in Seekonk, Hingham, Falmouth and Wellesley. It's the beginning of the end for the decade-long defoliation of eastern Massachusetts trees by the invasive species, Elkinton says.

The researchers marked an important milestone during field work this summer and last, when they recovered winter moth larvae recently parasitized by C. albicans, the parasitic fly, at sites in the four towns. The evidence indicates that the flies had successfully overwintered and are now actively preying on the moth's young.

The winter moth, Operophtera brumata, invaded the state from Europe more than a decade ago and has caused widespread, damaging defoliation of many deciduous tree species. The moths have moved westward and recently spread to Rhode Island. In many of these areas defoliation has occurred almost every year since the infestation began. As a result, many trees have started to die. Similar winter moth invasions occurred in Nova Scotia in the 1950s and in the Pacific northwest in the 1970s. In each case, outbreaks were permanently controlled by introducing C. albicans, Elkinton adds.

"Because C. albicans was so successful in controlling winter moth in Nova Scotia and the Pacific northwest, it was natural for us to introduce it here in New England using flies my colleagues and I collected in British Columbia," he notes.

A great advantage of C. albicans is that it is highly specialized to prey on winter moths, so it does not spread to other species. Further, its numbers decline once it gains control, the entomologist points out. It is not attracted to humans or our homes and buildings, so the only impact people will notice is the decline in tree damage.

The researchers have conducted DNA tests that prove the flies recovered in 2010 and 2011 are identical to those they released. "Our experience now matches closely the Nova Scotia project wherein the yearly releases began in 1954, but no recoveries at all were made until 1959. Previous experience in Nova Scotia or British Columbia suggests that the levels of parasitism should now build rapidly in eastern Massachusetts over the next few years," Elkinton says.

"Now that we know that single releases with a few hundred flies can result in establishment here in New England, we can spread the flies we have to more new sites." He and his team have now released about 700 flies at each of nine new sites in 2011, including one in Rhode Island.

They also collected 61,000 winter moth pupae that contain C. albicans larva in British Columbia and have sequestered them in the USDA quarantine lab at Otis Air Force Base for release next year in Massachusetts. "Previous experience tells us that about 50 percent of these pupae will contain immature C. albicans. Assuming that we can successfully rear most of these to the adult stage next spring, by May 2012 we should have more flies to release than ever before," says Elkinton.

The UMass Amherst winter moth control project was begun in 2005 with support from the Massachusetts Legislature, and later the USDA and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. Though budget cutbacks threaten to slow progress, Elkinton is hopeful that efforts will continue to release flies at new locations, because it takes time for only a few thousand flies to catch up with the estimated trillions of winter moths now munching their way across eastern and central Massachusetts.
-end-


University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Related Invasive Species Articles from Brightsurf:

The invasive species that Europe needs to erradicate most urgently are identified
An international research team analyzed the risk impact and the effectiveness of possible erradication strategies for invasive species already in the region as well as those that have yet to arrive

Crayfish 'trapping' fails to control invasive species
Despite being championed by a host of celebrity chefs, crayfish 'trapping' is not helping to control invasive American signal crayfish, according to new research by UCL and King's College London.

Climate change is impacting the spread of invasive animal species
What factors influence the spread of invasive animal species in our oceans?

Invasive alien species may soon cause dramatic global biodiversity loss
An increase of 20 to 30 per cent of invasive non-native (alien) species would lead to dramatic future biodiversity loss worldwide.

Protected areas worldwide at risk of invasive species
Protected areas across the globe are effectively keeping invasive animals at bay, but the large majority of them are at risk of invasions, finds a involving UCL and led by the Chinese Academy of Science, in a study published in Nature Communications.

Charismatic invasive species have an easier time settling into new habitats
An international study, in which the University of Cordoba participated, assessed the influence of charisma in the handling of invasive species and concluded that the perception people have of them can hinder our control over these species and condition their spread

Invasive species with charisma have it easier
It's the outside that counts: Their charisma has an impact on the introduction and image of alien species and can even hinder their control.

Invasive species that threaten biodiversity on the Antarctic Peninsula are identified
Mediterranean mussels, seaweed and some species of land plants and invertebrates are among the 13 species that are most likely to damage the ecosystems on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Research networks can help BRICS countries combat invasive species
BRICS countries need more networks of researchers dedicated to invasion science if they wish to curb the spread of invasive species within and outside of their borders.

Look out, invasive species: The robots are coming
Researchers published the first experiments to gauge whether biomimetic robotic fish can induce fear-related changes in mosquitofish, aiming to discover whether the highly invasive species might be controlled without toxicants or trapping methods harmful to wildlife.

Read More: Invasive Species News and Invasive Species Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.