Tree, fruit growers beware: Spotted lanternfly has its pick of invadable territory

Oct. 3 (UPI) — Tree and fruit growers won’t be happy to hear the findings of a new habitat-modeling study by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture — the invasive spotted lanternfly still has plenty of suitable habitat, should it continue to spread.

The spotted lanternfly, Lycorma delicatula, has been reported to attack grapes, apples, cherries, and several other fruit and timber tree species. In its native habitat, the species is kept in check by natural predators. But in places like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the invasive species can severely damage trees.

To figure out where the spotted lanternfly might show up next, scientists built a model to compare its native habitat in Asia with the habitats the insect has invaded in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Scientists used the model to analyze the suitability of other habitats in the United States.

According to the findings, published Thursday in the Journal of Economy Entomology, there are still plenty of places in North America for the invader to go. Simulations suggest the spotter lanternfly would find much to like about most of New England and the mid-Atlantic, as well as large swaths of the central U.S. and Pacific Northwest.

The analysis showed places below 3,280 feet in elevation, where dry season temperatures average between 19 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit, would be most susceptible to an invasion.

“Locations with high risk of spotted lanternfly establishment should consider taking preventive measures,” Tewodros Wakie, research ecologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service, said in a news release. “Early detection is key to control and eradication.”

The map of susceptible habitat closely follows the range of the tree of heaven, Ailanthus altissima, an invasive tree introduced to North America in the late 18th century.

“We are surprised by how the spotted lanternfly distribution closely matched that of the tree-of-heaven,” Wakie said.

Though it boasts wings and is called a fly, the species mostly hops. Females lay eggs in masses on tree trunks, branches, rocks, barns, fences and farm equipment. When the nymphs feed on trees, large sappy wounds can develop. Infected trees can become stunted or die.

Several of the regions susceptible to a spotted lanternfly invasion are home to valuable fruit industries. Washington, for example, hosts multibillion-dollar apple, cherry, grape and hops industries.

“The goal of this research was to identify the potential for spotted lanternfly to spread based on its current distribution,” said USDA-ARS researcher Lisa Neven. “This work will aid farmers and individual state departments of agriculture to develop mitigation plans based on this predictive model.”

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