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NATURE

Weevils the good guys in Florida tree war

weevil

RELATED VIDEO
CNN's John Zarrella reports on the hungry bugs.
Windows Media 28K 80K

  

May 25, 1999
Web posted at: 2:23 p.m. EDT (1823 GMT)

BROWARD COUNTY, Florida (CNN) -- Score one for the weevils.

The melaleuca weevil, introduced to south Florida by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1997, is proving an unlikely hero in a last-ditch effort to combat an Australian pest that is spreading uncontrollably.

The melaleuca tree, introduced decades ago, has been taking over about 50 acres per day and has resisted cutting, poisoning and even burning. The only remaining solution was to introduce a natural enemy -- the weevil, also native to Australia.

Because the insect's diet consists of nothing but melaleuca leaves, in test areas the weevils are eating the tender young leaves as fast as the trees can produce them.

"They're happy here," says entomologist Ted Center, whose team introduced the weevil. "There's so much food they don't know what to do with it all."

Because the bugs are adapting so well, the government has expanded the original 13 weevil test colonies to more than 40.

Scientists don't expect to completely eradicate the melaleuca trees. Each tree canopy carries some 60 million seeds, and Florida's frequent spring wildfires help trigger their release. But scientists think the weevil may at least slow the spread, bringing nature back into balance.


Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Weevils help save Jurassic plant in Australia
May 25, 1999
Professor homes in on natural pesticides
November 18, 1998

RELATED SITES:
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Agricultural Research Service

Melaleuca quinquenervia

Agricultural Research magazine, December 1997, "Aussie Weevil Opens Attack on Rampant Melaleuca"

Ecological Consequences of Invasion by Melaleuca Quinquenervia in South Florida Wetlands: Paradise Damaged, not Lost by Frank J. Mazzotti, Ted D. Center, F. Allen Dray, and Dan Thayer

Weevils
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