Tapping Beneficial Insects to Combat Pests — Especially the Asian psyllid (Part 1)

Tapping Beneficial Insects to Combat Pests — Especially the Asian psyllid (Part 1)

Note: This is a two part article – More info on attracting native predator insects for pests, photos and references  is here

Ken Kupfer is a popular speaker on biological control, which is the use of natural enemies to manage pests and their damage. While his work with organic and sustainable growers finds Kupfer in California nearly half of the year, he resides in Florida. There he personally witnessed the infestation of the Asian citrus psyllid, referred to as ACP. After devastating the Florida citrus industry, the ACP has unfortunately made its way to California.

“In Florida, the [mandated] use of systemic pesticides and foliar pesticides for citrus crops has really saturated the environment and it of course kills 99% of other bugs it comes in contact with”  Ken Kupfer

Kupfer is hoping that California can do a more reasoned approach to combatting the psyllid, especially since the psyllid is showing up in public neighborhoods. “In Florida, the use of systemic pesticides and foliar pesticides is mandated for the citrus crops. It’s really saturated the environment and it of course kills 99% of other bugs it comes in contact with,” he says.

Kupfer is a strong proponent of natural remedies for pests, reinforced by his development or a targeted bait called KM AntPro for the argentine ant. “With argentine ants, if you can take their crazy colonies away, then the natural pollinators and predators can come in,” Kupfer explains. As most people have witnessed, Argentine ants form supercolonies that skillfully forage on the honeydew that is excreted by aphids, scales and mealybugs. They are so protective that they swarm and kill any natural predators in their midst.

When there is overkilling of natural predators that are present in a given environment, whether it’s by the argentine ant, or by overuse of insecticide sprays that kill anything it comes in contact with, pest levels stay high or in the case of sprays, actually rebound.

Even a small section of native plants ushers in beneficial bugs

Employing the Natives – Because it Works

The first ACP Kupfer saw was on this Mandarin and was successfully treated (Photo K. Kupfer)

In 2011 Kupfer discovered the psyllid on his Florida property.  He began a five-year study using 70 trees in the vicinity and various kinds of native flowering plants to introduce large numbers of natural predators. He also knocked down the Argentine ants on his property. His positive results included minimal tree mortality and no need for spraying. Natural predators such as lacewings, assassin bugs, hoverflies and lady beetles (ladybugs) got the ACP in is nymph stages before they could become an adult.

“What people don’t realize is you don’t need a large section of native and flowering plants. Even 3-4% of your property devoted to natural plants  is effective,” says Kupfer, adding that areas that had monocultures of just citrus orchards in Florida had more severe ACP infestations.

Parisitoid Wasp – Overkill?

ACP parasitoid drinking nectar from a buckwheat flower. Photo by Mike Lewis and Dr. Irvin

Kupfer says employing the parasitoid wasp, a natural predator for the psyllid overseas, is a good idea, but he cautions that “it is like using a fighter plane in the battle, when we can’t forget about all the other predators.”“We need to use the natural predators in Florida or California and feed them into our ecosystems,” Kupfer says.

“By taking a small area on your property and having some native plants, whether its native milkweed or buckwheat, that will usher in the assassin bugs and lacewings,” Kupfer says, which can then do the work that comes to them naturally.

 

About Linda Richards

My goal is to educate about the science of nature in layperson speak, through my writing, science and education background. I grew up in the Chicago area, loved living in Minneapolis before gravitating to the West, which is now home.

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