Did you know that the incessant growth of invasive plant species or weeds not only destroys native species but also serves as a major cause of forest fires?
An invasive weed called Lantana Camara is doing just that across forests in Karnataka.
The Lantana weed has been a significant cause of killing undergrowth in forests, especially in summers when forest fires ignite. However, scientists at the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) have an innovative solution to control its growth, reports the Times of India.
The best part is that the solution does not involve the standard process of manually uprooting the weed. Instead, the idea is to extensively breed a Mexican bug species called the lantana lace bug (tingid).
The bug which originally hails from Mexico was first discovered to be a biological controller of lantana weed in Hawaii. It was brought to India in 1941, for lab studies in Dehradun where it is said to have escaped quarantine.
The existence of this bug is rampant across states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.
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It came to the spotlight among scientists in Bengaluru in 2017, when its infestation caused the lantana camara shrubs in the Bandipur Forest range to dry up and eventually killed it. The lantana lace bugs had effectively dried out over 2,000 hectares of the weed in a mere span of two months.
This helped the Bandipur park officials save the humongous manual effort and time required to manually uproot the weed.
Speaking to the Times of India, Prabhu Ganiger, an entomologist, said that UAS has recently submitted a proposal to the government to approve further field studies and devise methods in which these Mexican bugs can be multiplied extensively to control the growth of the weeds.
“We are thinking of increasing their numbers in natural environs as developing them in labs will be a tough task. However, all this can be done only after our proposal is approved by the forest department,” he said.
In a bid to control the invasive lantana camara species, the UAS scientists also want to make sure that the bugs don’t affect any other forest flora and farm crops. Studies in the past don’t mention any harmful effects to crops.
One way to find out side-effects of this method, if any, is through field trials on these bugs in selected forest patches in the state.
“If the bug-control of lantana proves effective at a large scale in Karnataka, the same can be replicated in other parts as the weed has spread across 13 million hectares in India,” said a senior forest officer told TOI.
If the multiplication of this bug helps control the growth of an invasive species like lantana camara, it would definitely be one step forward to protect vegetation and prevent forest fires.