Entomopathogenic fungi of Papua New Guinea oil palm pest, Zophiuma butawengi (Hemiptera: Lophopidae), and potential for biological control

Deane Woruba *1, Geoff Gurr 2, Catherine Gitau 2, Michael Priest 3, Charles Dewhurst 1, Murray Fletcher 3

1 PNG Oil Palm Research Association, Kimbe, West New Britain, Papua New Guinea
2 Charles Sturt University, PO Box 883, Orange, NSW 2800, Australia
3 NSW Dept of Primary Industries, Forest Road, Orange, NSW 2800, Australia

Oil palm Elaeis guineensis Jacq. is an important cash crop in Papua New Guinea.  Production is currently under threat from Finschhafen Disorder caused by the planthopper Zophiuma butawengi, a native pest of coconut palms.  The need for an environmentally friendly strategy to manage Z. butawengi is vital since the industry is committed to sustainable palm oil production.  One option is the development of a biological control agent using entomopathogenic organisms that could be applied in response to outbreaks of the pest, thereby reducing the impact of Z. butawengi.  Field collections were conducted in February 2010 during the wet monsoon season from five localities in PNG where populations of Z. butawengi were monitored.  From these, three entomopathogens were identified from mycosed Z. butawengi cadavers; Metarhizium flavoviride var. minus, Paecilomyces lilacinus and Hirsutella citriformis.  This is the first record of identified entomopathogenic fungi of Z. butawengi.  In laboratory-based bioassays, the entomopathogens were tested on Z. butawengi nymphs.  Although there was no significant difference between treatments (P =0.709), the fungal treatments killed insects more rapidly than the controls (P <0.001).  M. flavoviride var. minus killed insects most rapidly, followed by H. citriformis and P. lilacinus.  M. flavoviride var. minus showed promise as a candidate for further development as a biological control agent for Z. butawengi. 

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