Apple worm could be a pest of the past

The Mastrus Wasp may hold the key to eradicating the pome fruit industry’s most devastating insect pest.A PREDATOR wasp from Kazakhstan may hold the key to eliminating the Australian apple and pear industry’s most destructive insect pest.
Nanjing Night Net

Department of Primary Industries (DPI) scientists are examining the potential of the Mastrus wasp to wipe out codling moth, the proverbial “worm in the apple”, from Australian pome fruit orchards.

Principal Research Scientist David Williams said if the wasp – currently held in quarantine – is proven to be an effective and safe biological control of codling moth, it could mean dramatic productivity gains and cost-savings for Victoria’s orchardists.

“If left uncontrolled, codling moth can devastate Australia’s apple and pear orchards, most of which are based in Victoria. Every year the pest costs the industry about five million dollars in lost production, labour and treatment costs,” Mr Williams said.

Mr Williams said the Mastrus wasp smelt out codling moth larvae over winter – where the larvae hibernate under the bark on trees – and injected it with an anaesthetic to provide a food source for wasp larvae.

“The result is a smaller number of mature moths being active in spring and this combined with other control methods could constitute an integrated pest management plan that covers the entire lifecycle and gets us close to total eradication,” he said.

Mr Williams said researchers at DPI facilities in Tatura were building up a supply culture of codling moth and a small population of the Mastrus wasp was currently in quarantine at a secure facility in Frankston.

“We are working to understand if the wasp can be introduced to Australia without adverse impacts on the environment. We will then apply to undertake field trials in Tatura once all the lab trials are complete,” he said.

Mr Williams said the current methods used to control codling moth – either with pesticides or mating disruption technology, or a combination of both – were not always effective as the moth had built up a resistance to a range of pesticides.

“In orchards where the moth has built up a pesticide resistance, more than 50 per cent of the crop can be lost. If left unchecked, codling moth can decimate the whole crop,” he said.

“Using a bio-control agent like the Mastrus wasp would not only improve orchard productivity, it could mean we will no longer need to use synthetic pesticides against codling moth.”

Mr Williams said the Mastrus wasp had already been successfully introduced to combat codling moths in Californian walnut plantations. It is also currently in quarantine in New Zealand.

Entomologists from DPI are working closely with The New Zealand Institute for Plant Food and Research to share information, resources and test results to obtain approval for release of Mastrus in both countries.

The research is being conducted as part of the apple and pear industry’s Productivity, Irrigation, Pests and Soils (PIPS) program using a combination of funds from the Victorian State Government through DPI, The New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research and the Australian Federal Government matching fruit-grower levies through Horticulture Australia Ltd.

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