Why bother about Ophraella communa?
In 2013, the ragweed leaf beetle, Ophraella communa, was detected for the first time in Europe (see press release and scientific paper). It became established in an area of approximately 100 x 200 km south of the Alps in southern Switzerland and Northern Italy, where it has already reached outbreak densities.
The arrival of O. communa may be seen as a break-through with regard to the sustainable management of ragweed in southern Europe, since this insect is a successful biological control agent of A. artemisiifolia in China, but the un-authorized and apparently accidental introduction of O. communa in Europe also bears potential risks. For instance, Australia has not introduced this biological control agents because under “no-choice conditions” it can also attack sunflower, Helianthus annuus.
SMARTER has responded immediately to the arrival of O. communa by creating an Ophraella Task Force that aims to investigate whether the appearance of O. communa should be considered a successful control strategy for ragweed, or an ecological risk for Europe.
The overall objective of the Task Force is to collect data that will allow a science-based assessment of the potential risks and benefits of the presence of O. communa in Europe. The following tasks/research questions will be specifically addressed:
- Host specificity under open-field conditions, testing native European plant species and European varieties of crop plants
- Distribution/spread of O. communa in Europe
- Biology/behaviour of O. communa
- Impact of O. communa on ragweed population dynamics
- Impact on seed and pollen production
- Use data to parameterize European pollen forecast model
- Benefits for crop yield in ragweed-infested crop fields
- Reduction in medical costs in areas with O. communa
Some 15 researchers from 5 countries participate in the Ophraella Task Force. The team includes entomologists, ecologists, agronomists, economists, aerobiologists as well as experts in phytosanitary and health issues.
- SMARTER Dissemination Meeting, Milan
- Call for students: field work on biocontrol and population dynamics of ragweed
- Task Force Ophraella met to coordinate field work (May 2015, Milano)
- Task Force Ophraella finds beetle eggs on Ambrosia seedlings and exchanges results from 2014 (April 2015, Lugano, Switzerland)
- WG1 meeting initiates coupled plant-insect population models (Sheffield, March 2015)
- SMARTER Ophraella recognition card
- Ophraella and Ambrosia pollen flying on TV (6-minute videos)
- A Tiny, Powerful Answer to the European Ragweed Invasion
- Ophraella picture gallery
- The SMARTER Ophraella survey
- 2014/01 SMARTER Task Force “Ophraella” kicks off to investigate the impact of a devastating beetle
- Biocontrol breakthrough could defeat allergenic ragweed in EU
- Ambrosia in trouble
- 2013/08/17 – Freiburger Nachrichten, Switzerland