University of Guam entomologist, Aubrey Moore, continues to look for a solution to the coconut rhinoceros beetle (CRB) that is killing Guam’s palm trees. He believes the best way to control the beetle population is through infecting them with a virus called OrNV, which attacks only rhino beetles. Many years ago, OrNV was introduced into rhino beetle populations on many Pacific islands, which had been invaded by CRB and the damage they caused disappeared. Unfortunately, the CRB population, which is rapidly killing coconut palms on Guam and elsewhere in the Pacific is resistant to OrNV strains that worked in the past.
Finding a viable virus effective for the beetle biotype on Guam is imperative. To that end, he recently hosted two research entomologists from Japan who are virology experts. Professors Madoka Nakai and Shin-ichiro Asano were returning to Japan from a CRB fact-finding trip to Palau and stopped in Guam for four days to have a better understanding of the issue on Guam.
“While in Palau, we did detect the virus in beetle DNA, but we found no indication of infection,” said Nakai. This was disappointing news to Moore, but the good news is that these scientists will be collaborating to find a solution to control the destructive beetle on Guam.
Nakai is excited by the possibilities of this research, “We are asking important questions, such as what size a beetle population must be to cause the devastating damage we see on Guam? How are the beetles resisting the virus? What are the differences between the Guam biotype (CRB-G) and other biotypes?” With funding from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), Nakai proposes to import CRB-G from Guam as well as beetles not of the Guam biotype and breed them in the lab to undertake basic biology studies and possible crossbreeding to understand what the mechanism is that helps them resist viral infection.
“We are working with a Pacific-wide collaboration of scientists trying to solve this problem that is critical for Pacific Islanders. Researchers from Guam, New Zealand, Malaysia, Japan, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are united in their efforts to find a virus that can be used to control be lethal to the coconut rhinoceros beetle beetles before we lose most of our palms and to stop it spreading to more islands.” stated Moore.