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Tuesday, March 09, 2010


There's been a lot in the news recently about invasive species and the damage they do to native species.

One of the species that is often mentioned is Japanese Knotweed. It is said that it currently costs over £150m a year to control and clear.

Knotweed grows quickly (more than a metre a month). It can burst through tarmac and concrete, causing costly damage to pavements, roads and buildings.

In its native Japan it has predators. Scientist have been testing some of these on 90 different UK plant species, including plants closely related to Japanese knotweed, they have discovered a psyllid called Aphalara itadori was the best control agent.

The insect feeds on the sap of the superweed, stunting its growth and it will be released on a handful of sites this spring.

The Leader of the project Dr Dick Shaw said:

Safety is our top priority. We are lucky that we do have an extremely specific agent - it just eats invasive knotweeds.

In the early stages, a contingency plan is in place so that should, in the unlikely event, any unintended consequences be detected, we will be able to do something about it.

Insecticide and herbicide treatment will be on standby for rapid response.

This is the first time that biocontrol - the use of a "natural predator" to control a pest - has been used in the EU to fight a weed and according to Dr Shaw it could take 5 to 10 years to have a big impact.

Let's hope there isn't a big side effect, remember the cane toad!


Janine said...

Pete, nice post. Interesting to note that biocontrols have never been used in the EU. Here in Florida you can imagine we have significant invasive species issues. There is a biocontrol lab here that has released several species with positive results. I think it takes like 7 years of study and rigorous testing to approve a species for release!

ShySongbird said...

My first thought on hearing that report the other day was could they be unleashing something they might regret!