Clouds of biting midges could naturally become a thing of the past
A new way of combating a debilitating disease in sheep could also help end that scourge of summer-time barbecues – clouds of biting midges (Culicoides).
Scientists working on the Integrated Management of forest Pests Addressing Climate Trends (IMPACT) project are investigating new natural ways of controlling the tiny pests, which cause blue tongue disease in flocks of sheep in Wales.
The project is co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Ireland Wales Programme (INTERREG IVA), COFORD and Forestry Commission Wales.
And the research team from project partner Swansea University has just published its latest findings on work which looks at using a fungus – Metarhizium anisopliae – to control biting midges, the populations of which could increase with climate change.
“Nuisance species have a significant impact on the tourist and forest industries and can also transmit a large number of human and animal diseases,” said Professor Tariq Butt, whose work at Swansea is an important part of the IMPACT project.
“For example they carry the blue tongue virus which can pose a serious threat to the Welsh livestock industry.
“Current control measures rely on synthetic pesticides, which pose a risk to humans and the environment, whereas natural alternatives do not, and with climate change projecting warmer, wetter weather these could prove a very useful alternative in reducing midge populations.”
The research team already knew that the entomopathogenic – insect-killing – fungus could successfully kill larvae of the midge Culicoides nubeculosus and could reduce inputs of harmful chemical pesticides
Work in the laboratories at Swansea has now shown that the V275 strain of the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae has potential for use in control programmes as it also kills the adult midge, with some applications having a 100 per cent success rate within five days.
“However, the agent needs to be tested in different field conditions to show it is robust, efficacious and does not pose a risk to non-target invertebrates,” said Professor Butt.
Now the IMPACT team, which includes specialists from Forest Research in Wales, National University of Ireland, Maynooth and Swansea University, is looking for sites to carry out a series of field trials.
The project team is investigating new ways of tackling a wide variety of important pests which can have a dramatic effect on forests and woodlands across the UK and Ireland.
“The increasing extremes in our weather – hot or cold temperatures, increased rainfall and flooding – are creating the ideal conditions for forest pests either directly on their life cycles or through increased tree stress, making them less able to withstand pest attacks,” said project leader Professor Hugh Evans of Forest Research in Wales.
For more information on the IMPACT project visit www.impactproject.eu.