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As the Pacific Community’s (SPC) PARC (Pacific Awareness and Response to Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle) experts race against time with the Biosecurity Vanuatu team on Vanuatu’s Efate and Ifira islands to halt the spread of the deadly Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle (CRB), the collaborative effort has noted a high rate of Metarhizium infection among the invasive pests caught in traps and artificial breeding sites set up on the two islands.
The recent surveillance and monitoring activities on both islands found that traps sprayed with metarhizium have successfully infected beetle larvae, which will ultimately reduce the number of the coconut pest. The surveillance activities are led by the Biosecurity Vanuatu Division with support from the Pacific Community project funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).
Metarhizium is a green fungus that infects CRB breeding sites and kills young beetles. A commercial formulation of the fungus from Malaysia is currently being used in the CRB traps. New Zealand’s AgResearch team is also investigating locally occurring strains of the fungus and those that are effective after testing will also be applied as part of the control program.
Acting Director for Biosecurity Vanuatu, Armstrong Sam says this is a good sign and his team will ensure pheromone and fungus traps are continually monitored.
“It’s positive to note that the biocontrol agent is working,” said Sam. “The Pacific Community team has also conducted training with our staff on how to mass produce metarhizium in our lab. This allows us to continue the application programme without any stoppages as in the past the high cost of importing metarhizium has been an issue, in addition to the problem of delays in shipping.”
The Biosecurity Vanuatu team were further trained on storage procedures to give the biocontrol agent a longer shelf life. The programme will enable the team to mass produce the fungus and store it for routine application within breeding sites, including artificial breeding sites.
PARC Project Manager Dr Mark Ero confirmed the high rate of Metarhizium infection in some areas of Efate and added that the application programme at the targeted management sites needs to be consistent.
“All the required equipment for producing metarhizium in bulk has been delivered to the Biosecurity Vanuatu team,” he said. “Fast-tracking this process will improve the consistency of Metarhizium application at targeted management sites.”
Ero also detailed other management initiatives to suppress CRB populations at infested sites, including crop sanitation, pheromone trapping, cover-cropping, and the physical killing of beetles. The use of pheromone trap technology is common for CRB surveillance and national biosecurity authorities are encouraged to use it for early detection and monitoring programmes.
The PARC team has moved to Papua New Guinea to monitor the progress of management efforts with partners Kokoda Indastri Koporesen (KIK) and National Agriculture and Quarantine Inspection Authority (NAQIA) and attend the Papua New Guinea CRB Taskforce Committee meeting. The team has been working closely with country partners Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea to stamp out the rapid spread of this invasive coconut pest.