Biocontrol proposed for miconia in Hawaii

19.06.2020

A draft environmental assessment for the release of a biocontrol insect to manage invasive miconia trees has been filed by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA).

In a collaborative research effort involving the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USDA-FS), the University of Costa Rica (UCR), the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and HDOA, the environmental assessment proposes to release a butterfly that is the natural enemy of Miconia calvenscens, a tree that is one of the state’s most noxious weeds and a major threat to Hawaii’s forests and watersheds.

The 20-year biological control research project studied the miconia butterfly, Euselasia chrysippe, which in its caterpillar stage feeds in tight-knit groups of 40-80 or more on the leaves of miconia. In the plant’s native range of Costa Rica, the caterpillars eat several species in the genus Miconia, effectively controlling the plant’s invasiveness.

Testing by entomologists at the UCR and the USDA-FS in Hawaii has shown the miconia butterfly feeds only on miconia and its closest relatives, all members of the melastome family. Melastome plants are all non-native weeds in Hawaii, so predation effects of the butterfly are expected to be beneficial to state forests with no negative impacts on other plants.

The miconia butterfly is the first insect to be proposed for miconia biocontrol, while research continues on several other promising natural enemies.

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