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Insect predators winning the cactus battle in the Western region

Nearly two years after a new biotype of cochineal insect (Dactylopius tomentosus, cholla biotype) was released to control boxing glove cactus (Cylindropuntia fulgida var. mamillata), positive results are now being seen by Western Local Land Services staff.

In October 2016, the new cochineal biotype was released at a site near Tibooburra onto approximately 30 individual plants within the core infestation of boxing glove cactus.

A site inspection six months later showed positive signs that a population of cochineal had begun to establish, with individual plants displaying evidence of infestation.

However, at that point, cochineal had not spread more than a meter or so from individual release points.

By May this year, all plants within the core infestation area were exhibiting a very high level of infestation, most being completely dead or in a significantly weakened state.

The cochineal had also spread up to 400 metres from the release site onto more sparsely distributed cactus plants. Senior Land Services Officer, Mitch Plumbe is pleased with the outcome to date.

“The use of a biological control at this site has achieved a substantial reduction in the cactus population with minimal investment by the landholder,” Mr Plumbe said.

“This has allowed labour and herbicide resources to be concentrated on containing more isolated plants.

“In addition to the initial population decline, using cochineal as a control tool has also been beneficial as it infects even the really small plants that are just getting established, meaning they don’t get the chance to grow and mature.”

The site near Tibooburra is now being used as a source population to further spread cochineal to other boxing glove cactus infestations around the region.

The identification and release of the new cochineal biotype is the result of many years of research by the NSW Department of Primary Industries and the QLD Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

The release is part of a broader national collaboration project led by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program to implement biological control of six high-priority weeds.

For more information about biological control of cactus, contact Mr Plumbe (Broken Hill) on 0408 241 200 or Senior Land Services Officer, Brian Dohnt (Cobar) on 0455 901 258.

Media contact:
Charlie Whiteley, Western Local Land Services, 0428 679 974.