May 12, 2015

Guest Commentary – “Superbug” North American Invasion: Is it Just a Matter of Time?

Photo credit: W. Billen, Pflanzenbeschaustelle, Weil am Rhein, Bugwood.org

By Elizabeth Leake, InSTePP Communication Specialist, University of Minnesota

What has a voracious appetite, is resistant to broad-spectrum pesticides and could take a big bite out of the US agricultural economy? Helicoverpa armigera, or “Old World Bollworm,” recently appeared in South and Central America, and is expected to hitch-hike to the US via Caribbean or Mexican produce import channels.

H. armigera is especially worrisome to the agribusiness community since it eats a variety of US crops that are produced in pest-favorable climates, including cotton, corn, flowers, and tomato. To complicate matters, it’s nearly indistinguishable from its North American cousin, H. zea, commonly known as the corn earworm, and hybridized “superbug” offspring are possible.

Potential global distribution of Helicoverpa armigera, modelled using CLIMEXAs part of the University of Minnesota’s MnDRIVE Global Food Ventures initiative, the University’s International Science & Technology Practice & Policy (InSTePP) Center and Department of Entomology collaborated with a multinational research team to prepare a new distribution model that highlights the global invasion threat, taking into account climate suitability, irrigation patterns and the existence of suitable crop hosts. In addition to the recent confirmation of H. armigera in Brazil and Puerto Rico, they suggest the potential for rapid migration could warrant consideration of bio-security and control methods to slow progression, giving the industry time to build a defense.  

The paper, “The Potential Distribution of Invading Helicoverpa armigera in North America: Is it Just a Matter of Time?” was published in the March 18, 2015 edition of PLOS ONE.

About

The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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