A team at University of Leicester is using nature against itself for the first time in Europe. They are calling it "biocontrol"; the team is bringing in sap-sucking insects from Japan to control an invasive plant species called Knotweed.
The Knotweed is also originally from Japan, and it was first introduced in Britain in the 1850s, but since then, the plant has thrived a little too well. The research team was charged with finding a way to reduce the invasive plant's foothold in Britain, and they settled on bringing in a natural predator of the Knotweed from the plant's native Japan.
The little plant-eater is called Aphalara itadori, and it works a lot like an aphid, sucking out vital juices from the plant and choking it with tons of offspring. The idea is that the itadori will not kill the Knotweed, but greatly reduce its spread and number.
Of course, when a non-native species takes over surprisingly well, it's risky bringing in yet another non-native species to control it. But the team is doing extensive research on the interaction between the insects and the Knotweed to make sure there are no surprises in store for Britain's ecosystem.
This move by the British government also echos a move by the Springfield government in The Simpsons. In the episode "Bart The Mother," a species of tree lizard takes over Springfield, but the city imports snakes to kill the lizards. When the snakes become a problem, the town plans brings in gorillas. The gorillas, they say, will not be a problem because winter will take care of them. Let's hope there aren't snake-killing gorillas wandering the British countryside by this time next year.
First Ever Use In Europe Of An Insect To Fight Invasive Plant Species [via ScienceDaily]
(Image: a member of the team with the dreaded Knotweed, from University of Leicester)