In 2014 partners of the SLELO PRISM submitted a request to the New York State Invasive Species Coordination Unit and the NYS Invasive Species Council to prioritize research on the biocontrol of water chestnut (Trapa natans). This request was approved and to date the research has made great advances with the arrival of several hundred potential biocontrol agents, Galerucella birmanica, at Cornell University from the Wuhan region of China. The beetles were hand collected in the field by the project’s principle investigator Dr. Bernd Blossey of Cornell University, and Chinese collaborator Dr. Jianqing Ding of the Wuhan Botanical Garden. Upon arriving in the US, the biocontrol candidates were transported to Cornell’s Sarkaria Arthropod Research Laboratory (SARL), a quarantine facility where experiments can be conducted without risking the escape of beetles into the wild.
Dr. Blossey and his research team (which includes Dr. Andrea Davalos and several research assistants) have been preparing for the arrival of G. birmanica since last fall. Water chestnut plants have been propagated in outdoor tanks to provide a reliable source of food for the beetle colony while in the quarantine facility.
Over the next several months, Dr. Blossey’s team will conduct a series of experiments, including host-specificity tests to determine whether these beetles are able to feed and/or develop on any plants other than water chestnut. This is a key requirement of the biocontrol approval process. During these experiments, G. birmanica adults and larvae will be offered native plants and plants of economic importance in a series of feeding tests and observations will be recorded. These results will be the backbone of an application for field release to federal and state authorities should G. birmanica be considered sufficiently host specific. Preliminary tests conducted by our collaborator Dr. Ding indicate that G. birmanica is highly specific to water chestnut, and we are hopeful that this will hold true in our coming experiments. This research is supported by EPF funds administered through the NYDEC and has been endorsed by the SLELO PRISM as a research priority. ~Audrey Bowe, Research Assistant.
Photo: Rob Williams and Carrie Brown Lima visiting the Cornell Lab