Israeli wasps to check eucalyptus gall disease

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Jun 13 2010, 04:55am hrs
Much to the relief of Indian paper industry, wasps of Israeli-origin brought to India to check the gall disease in eucalyptus plants have started showing signs of survival which could save the plantsa key raw material for the wood-based local paper industry from destruction.

Though, for the last 18 months, Indian scientists and ago-industry stakeholders had invested massive efforts to control gall epidemic in Indian eucalyptus plantations, the project didnt make much headway.

Checking the spread of gall disease in eucalyptus plants was necessary because besides the wood-based paper-industry, eucalyptus is raw material for various industrial sectors like construction and chemical applications and ravage of eucalyptus plantations by the gall disease could have devastating industrial impact. R Narayan Moorthy, secretary general, Delhi-based Indian Paper Manufacturers Association (IPMA) told FE.

IPMA roped in the Bangalore-based National Bureau for Agriculturally Important Insects (NBAII) and Coimbatore-based Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding (IFGTB) on a project of introducing natural wasp enemies to fight the disease-causing insect Leptocybe Invasa. Wasps imported from Israel didnt show any sign of survival because of low monsoon last year.

But then, in early May this year, a profusion of parasitoids (parasitic wasp that kills eucalyptus gall wasps) was noticed, after 18 months of naturalisation process,H D Kulkarni, scientist and chief coordinator of the project, said.

After a workshop in Tel Aviv on mass-rearing of parasitoids, five Indian scientists were engaged in the rearing of the gall-combating wasp. Israel is the only country to make a breakthrough in research on checking eucalyptus wasp in plantations through mass rearing of its natural enemy.

Israeli parasitoids were introduced to India twice, first in October 2008 and then in February 2010. The emergence was first recorded in quarantine lab at NBAII and later the plants were kept in cages. Nothing was noticed for a long time and all hopes were lost, Kulkarni said.

As fortunes suddenly turned last month, scientists now feel that parasitoids must have been dormant for a while, in the changed conditions. IPMA has so far spent over Rs 40 lakh on the project, Narayan Moorthy said.

The next challenge is to get the wasps to the field on the combat mode. Two parasitoidsQuadrastichus Mendeli and Megastigmus Spp have been recently released to control eucalyptus gall, another senior scientist, involved in the project, said.

Besides IPMA members, selected research institutes like Birla-owned Forest Research Institute, Harihar will be given both eucalyptus parches live with parasitoids and also those in glass bottles.