Sunday, 14 July 2019

Armyworms are devastating Asia's crops, but researchers have a plan to save them

JULY 8, 2019

by Toby Bruce, The Conversation
A very hungry caterpillar is rampaging through crops across the world, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. The fall armyworm, also known as Spodoptera frugiperda (fruit destroyer), loves to eat maize (corn) but also plagues many other crops vital to human food security, such as rice and sorghum.
This invasive eating machine originated in the Americas, where it was first described in 1797, but in the last few years it has gone global. It was reported in Africa in 2016 and has now reached China, spreading across two continents, west to east, in just three years. Entry of the pest into this part of Asia matters because so many people live there and in nearby regions, and there is already huge pressure on the area's food production systems.
But there is hope. My colleagues and I are researching ways to stop the pest that don't rely on damaging pesticides and could be adopted around the world.
How the fall armyworm crossed the Atlantic from its native range in tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas is unknown. Perhaps it was through long-distance migration of moths, possibly blown by winds, that then laid eggs in Africa. Or perhaps it was through trade of contaminated produce already containing eggs and hungry caterpillars.

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