Division of Agriculture entomologists employ biological weapon against foreign invaderJune 18, 2012
Dr. Tim Kring, Professor, Entomology
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By Fred Miller, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture
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Entomologist Tim Kring describes research efforts to enlist the spotted knapweed flower weevil to control an invasive weed that degrades pastures and native plant populations.
“The weed has no natural predators in the U.S.” Kring said. “It can be controlled using herbicides, but that’s expensive and, across large ranges, it’s impractical.”
Kring, working with graduate students and research assistants, has been seeking to adapt biological controls in the form of beneficial insects that have proven effective in other parts of the country for use in Arkansas. His research has focused on two weevils from Eastern Europe — knapweed’s native range — that feed exclusively on this plant. One of the weevils feeds on knapweed roots, the other on the weed’s purple flowers.
“We’re attacking the plant from both ends,” Kring said.
The weevils are collected from established populations in Colorado. Kring began releasing the spotted knapweed flower weevil (Larinus minutus) in 2008 in test plots on the Division’s Arkansas Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Fayetteville and at other sites around northwest Arkansas. The knapweed root weevil (Cyphocleonus achates) was released the following year, and each year the insects were released at more sites.
The releases have demonstrated that the weevils thrive in the Arkansas climate and have a measurable impact on spotted knapweed.
Flower weevil populations are now established at 43 sites around northwest Arkansas and Kring is planning to expand the insect’s range in 2012. Graduate students Carey Minteer and Adam Alford and research technician Yong Jun Shen will collect the flower weevils from the established sites and release them across a wider area of the state.
“The weevils are easy to collect because they have a dropping response when frightened,” Minteer said. “You just brush the weeds and the insects fall into a bucket.”
Adult flower weevils overwinter on the ground, Kring said. “In the spring, they emerge and lay eggs in the weed’s seed heads. After hatching, a single larva will eat all the seeds in a single seed head.”
Kring said biological control of spotted knapweed takes time and will not eradicate the weed. “A successful outcome will mean that, within a decade, the weed will be reduced to a manageable level where the weevils are released. We’ll see low populations of the weed and a low, stable population of the weevils.”