Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, is leading a research project to understand and manage fall armyworm (FAW), a transboundary pest threatening crop production across South East Asia and Oceania.
The project will provide an understanding of the pest’s genetic make-up and insecticide sensitivities to see which practices are the most effective for managing FAW. This will help develop effective pest management plans.
CSIRO researcher and project leader Dr Wee Tek Tay said FAW was capable of damaging various crops, including maize, sorghum, cotton, ginger and sugarcane.
“This particular species of armyworm has developed resistance to commonly used insecticides in other parts of the world, making management more difficult,” Dr Tay said.
“It has spread rapidly since the first reported detection in Africa in 2016, across Asia and Africa and to Australia in early 2020, potentially carrying new insecticide resistance or feeding traits.
“The resistance status of the current incursion, potential for resistance to develop over time and the ongoing migration of FAW into Australia and the region may present significant challenges to agricultural industries.
“The more we know about this armyworm, its genetics and its response to insecticides, the better we can plan for effective management and eradication strategies.”
The project is co-funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Grains Research and Development Corporation, Cotton Research and Development Corporation, FMC Australasia and Corteva Agriscience.
It involves partner organisations in Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Philippines, Malaysia and Uganda.
Historically, the pest has been classified as either rice-preferred or corn-preferred fall armyworm.
However, recent genomic studies confirmed the presence of hybrids in both native and invasive ranges, leading to gaps in understanding of host crop preferences, especially in invasive populations.
ACIAR’s Associated Research Program Manager for Farming Systems Analysis, Dr Sarina Macfadyen, said it was hoped the research would help develop individual country responses and facilitate co-ordinated actions.
“The team will focus on developing new knowledge in two areas; firstly, conducting a genetic characterisation of the similarities and differences in the populations found in Australia and the countries in South East Asia,” Dr Macfadyen said.
“The second area of research involves testing the insecticide sensitivities of these populations that may already show some level of resistance to commonly used products.
“The team will look for genetic markers that, if present, may suggest some populations already carry mutations that make them able to withstand specific insecticides, and they will conduct bioassays on live caterpillars exposed to different insecticide modes of action.
“This knowledge will feed into the development of resistance management plans by individual countries and inform insecticide recommendations to farmers.”
Transboundary plant pests and diseases may easily spread to several countries and reach epidemic proportions. Outbreaks may cause significant losses to crops and pastures, threatening the livelihoods of farmers and the food and nutrition security of many people.
The spread of transboundary pests, such as FAW, has increased dramatically in recent years. Globalisation, trade and climate change, as well as reduced resilience in production systems due to decades of agricultural intensification, may all have played a part.
“This co-investment brings together partners in government, RDCs, the private sector and the research community to address an immediate priority – the characterisation of FAW in Australia and South East Asia,” said Dr Jeevan Khurana, GRDC’s Manager Biosecurity who is co-ordinating the partnership.
“The information generated will be an important component in the development of sustainable management strategies.”
The research is due to run until the middle of 2021 with a final report of the findings to be published by CSIRO and ACIAR.