Alien Control

2009-02-13 00:00

UNDISTURBED ecosystems develop a state of equilibrium over time with every plant and creature living in balance with every other. But take one out of that ecosystem and transplant it to another far from its natural checks and balances, and it often runs amuck. Such are some of the noxious aliens in this country, for instance bugweed, lantana, hakea and cat’s claw creeper. The latter, a tropical vine native to South America and first introduced to this country as an ornamental plant, has become a menace, invading forests, plantations and farms, destroying orchards and killing trees by smothering them.

It is impossible to eliminate mechanically because of its extensive tuba root system. The only answer is biological control, using its South American predator, sap-sucking insects called tingids (carvalotingis visendi). Having been quarantined for the past six years and tested to ensure that they are host-specific and will not cause further ecological damage by running amuck themselves, they have been released locally on a farm at Lincoln Meade and in the Botanical Gardens.

It is to be hoped that they prove the answer to a serious ecological threat.

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