Gypsy moths (Lymantria dispar) in the Niagara Region : population density variation, introduction of an entomopathogenic fungus (Entomophaga maimaiga) and occurrence of nuclear polyhedrosis virus
Belme, Dayle M.
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The gypsy moth, Lymantria dispar, a major defoliator of broad leaf trees, was accidentally introduced into North America in 1869. Much interest has been generated regarding the potential of using natural pathogens for biological control of this insect. One of these pathogens, a highly specific fungus, Entomophaga maimaiga, was accredited with causing major epizootics in populations of gypsy moth across the north-eastern United States in 1989 and 1990 and is thought to be spreading northwards into Canada. This study examined gypsy moth population densities in the Niagara Region. The fungus, .E.. maimaiga, was artificially introduced into one site and the resulting mortality in host populations was noted over two years. The relationship between fungal mortality, host population density and occurrence of another pathogen, the nuclear polyhedrosis virus (NPV), was assessed. Gypsy moth population density was assessed by counting egg masses in 0.01 hectare (ha) study plots in six areas, namely Louth, Queenston, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Shorthills Provincial Park, Chippawa Creek and Willoughby Marsh. High variability in density was seen among sites. Willoughby Marsh and Chippawa Creek, the sites with the greatest variability, were selected for more intensive study. The pathogenicity of E. maimaiga was established in laboratory trials. Fungal-infected gypsy moth larvae were then released into experimental plots of varying host density in Willoughby Marsh in 1992. These larvae served as the inoculum to infect field larvae. Other larvae were injected with culture medium only and released into control plots also of varying host density. Later, field larvae were collected and assessed for the presence of .E.. maimaiga and NPV. A greater proportion of larvae were infected from experimental plots than from control plots indicating that the experimental augmentation had been successful. There was no relationship between host density and the proportion of infected larvae in either experimental or control plots. In 1992, 86% of larvae were positive for NPV. Presence and intensity of NPV infection was independent of fungal presence, plot type or interaction of these two factors. Sampling was carried out in the summer of 1993, the year after the introduction, to evaluate the persistence of the pathogen in the environment. Almost 50% of all larvae were infected with the fungus. There was no difference between control and experimental plots. Data collected from Willoughby Marsh indicated that there was no correlation between the proportion of larvae infected with the fungus and host population density in either experimental or control plots. About 10% of larvae collected from a nearby site, Chippawa Creek, were also positive for .E.. maimaiga suggesting that low levels of .E.. maimaiga probably occurred naturally in the area. In 1993, 9.6% of larvae were positive for NPV. Again, presence or absence of NPV infection was independent of fungal presence plot type or interaction of these two factors. In conclusion, gypsy moth population densities were highly variable between and within sites in the Niagara Region. The introduction of the pathogenic fungus, .E.. maimaiga, into Willoughby Marsh in 1992 was successful and the fungus was again evident in 1993. There was no evidence for existence of a relationship between fungal mortality and gypsy moth density or occurrence of NPV. The results from this study are discussed with respect to the use of .E.. maimaiga in gypsy moth management programs.