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Forest Looper Pest Pheromone Identified

Forest Looper Pest Pheromone Identified

A joint HortResearch and Forest Research team in Canterbury has just identified the sex pheromone of the common forest looper. Sex pheromones are released by female moths to attract males and these compounds are now widely used to monitor and manage pest insects. The common forest looper is a native insect that has periodic outbreaks in pine plantations and has been responsible for large-scale defoliation of exotic forests in the past.

Dr Max Suckling, HortResearch’s Biosecurity Science Leader, says the new pheromone will be used in further research on ecological processes controlling the pest and could play a role in managing future outbreaks.

HortResearch’s Andy Gibb identified three candidate compounds from the moth’s sex pheromone glands that were then synthesised by HortResearch organic chemist Dan Comeskey. One of the compounds was highly attractive to male moths during field trials in Eyrewell Forest.

Dr Ecki Brockerhoff, of Forest Research’s Centre for Sustainable Forest Management and Forest Biosecurity Units says the new tool will greatly reduce the work involved with monitoring populations of this defoliator. Until now, this was done by collecting caterpillars and by using caged female moths as lures. Initial trials with the synthetic sex pheromone suggest it is as attractive as the real thing.

Research by the joint team on related projects is continuing and the pheromone will initially be used to investigate the distribution of the pest.

The identification of this pheromone is the culmination of three years of research, funded by the Forest Health Research Collaborative and the Foundation for Research Science & Technology. Trials are underway to determine the best delivery system.

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