WASHINGTON, May 24 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’re using a South American insect in an effort to control an invasive weed, water hyacinth, that’s common across the United States.
U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists at the department’s Agricultural Research Service said water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is a free-floating aquatic plant native to South America that has infested freshwater ecosystems across the nation, but which is especially problematic in the southeastern United States.
“The plant is a real menace, affecting water traffic, water quality, infrastructure for pumping and hydroelectric operations, water use and biodiversity,” the ARS said. “Other problems include fish kills due to low oxygen levels and increases in populations of vectors of human and animal diseases.”
ARS entomologists Philip Tipping and Ted Center said the work with researchers in Buenos Aires to find and test Megamelus scutellaris — a small planthopper native to South America whose nymphs and adults feed on the sap of water hyacinth. Scientists said the insect’s population increases rapidly, which will enable it to quickly affect the water hyacinth population.
Following extensive testing, the planthopper was found to be highly host-specific and non-threatening to native or economically important species.
The insects were released last week at the Edgefield Regional Stormwater Treatment Facility near Palatka, Fla.
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