A citrus greenhouse at Cal Poly Pomona (Courtesy of CDFA)

Parasitic wasps may help citrus survive

Usually the thought of a wasp laying its eggs into a host vessel is enough to incite fear, but professors and students from the Don B. Huntley College of Agriculture are breeding around 22,000 of these insects to protect California’s citrus industry.

The campus has partnered with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) in breeding Tamarixia radiata, a type of parasitic wasp, in order to combat the invasive Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP).

Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP) specimens on a citrus leaf. (Courtesy of CDFA)

ACP are small insects that feed on the stems and leaves of the trees and transmit bacteria that causes Huanglongbing (HLB).

The disease then spreads from tree to tree following the feeding and migration habits of ACP.

Once contracted, HLB causes trees to produce bitter and irregularly shaped fruits.

The fruits also turn a vibrant green before the tree eventually dies. There is a 100 percent fatality rate for diseased trees, but HLB is harmless to humans.

A cure for HLB doesn’t exist, so researchers are protecting the trees by eliminating ACP.

According to statistics from the College of Agriculture, ACP has cost Florida 6,000 jobs and around $7 billion in commercial citrus loss.

Members of the CDFA and researchers on campus are trying to protect citrus trees in California before the problem gets out of hand.

Yellow fliers that state ‘Government Insect Trap’ and ‘Do Not Disturb’ are placed on various trees up by the Collins College of Hospitality and Management as part of an effort to track the movement of ACP.

A citrus greenhouse at Cal Poly Pomona (Courtesy of CDFA)

Anna Soper is one of the professors running the program and said the wasps are harmless to humans and are the natural predator to ACP. She said the parasitic wasps attack ACP by laying their eggs and effectively killing it.

Benjamin Lehan is another professor running the program and said there’s no effective way of trapping ACP, so he said he hopes further research will provide an understanding of how the insects communicate and breed.

“A new type of trap could be a great tool for citrus growers, so hopefully this research can develop a new type of effective trap and explore the biology of how they breed,” Lehan said.

He said understanding their breeding habits could allow the researchers to potentially stop ACP from reproducing.

Lehan said students participating in the project are trying to find ways to increase the number of eggs the wasps produce and further understand the biology of ACP.

“The program has been very successful so far, with an estimated 80 percent reduction in ACP population in some areas,” Soper said.

Individuals who see signs of HLB are urged to contact the CDFA pest control hotline at (800) 491-1899.

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