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Scarlet Gourd Situation Improving (March 31, 2010)

Over the years, scarlet gourd (Coccina grandis) has been threatening the tree population on Saipan. Scarlet gourd is a fast growing vine that climbs up trees and kills them over time by taking away available light. It has been known to cause power outages when climbing up telephone poles.

To alleviate the problems that scarlet gourds are causing, the University of Guam (UOG), with help of the United States Department of Agriculture, conducted research on biological control of scarlet gourd.

With the support of the Northern Marianas College Cooperative Research Extension and Education Services, UOG scientists Dr. Rangaswamy Muniappan and Dr. Gadi Reddy set out parasitic insects on several sites in Saipan. In 2003, they released the scarlet gourd weevil (Acythopeus cocciniae) and in 2007 a moth, the scarlet gourd vine borer (Melittia oedipus).

The scarlet gourd weevil feeds on the leaves of the scarlet gourd. Its larvae mine the leaves, causing even more damage. Without leaves, the plant will eventually die. The scarlet gourd vine borer lays eggs into the stems of the scarlet gourd. The larvae feed on the inside of the stem and grow into moths.

Both insects are specialized on scarlet gourd, which means they will not attack any other plant species. Once the population of scarlet gourd is reduced, the number of insects will also shrink.

Earlier during the month, Dr. Reddy and Dr. Muniappan returned to Saipan to study the situation. Together with staff from NMC-CREES, entomologist Dr. Marisol Qunitanilla and retired entomologist Dr. Joaquin Tenorio toured the release sites on Saipan. The research the presence and the status of reproduction of moths and weevils.

The result of all studies and researches have been very positive. Extensive leaf damage on the scarlet gourd showed that the weevil is well established on Saipan. Boreholes on many scarlet gourd stems showed that the moth was also doing well. The Scientists were able to find live larvae and pupae of moth and continued research is being done through the NMC-CREES entomology lab for rearing of additional moths.

As a part of his observation, Dr. Muniappan concluded that scarlet gourds retreated by about 30-50% since the release of the insects.

Both Dr. Muniappan and Dr. Reddy are confident that should all factors remain constant and stable that the scarlet gourd will be further reduced over the next couple of years.

In the final briefing, NMC-CREES Director Ross S. Manglona thanked the visitors and stretched out the importance of the hard work that involved parties have made into the effort.

“We are grateful to be able to work with in partnership with such esteemed scientists and for the efforts of our hardworking staff at NMC-CREES,” said NMC Interim President, Lorraine T. Cabrera.

For more information about the elimination of scarlet gourd, you can contact Dr. Marisol Quintanilla at the NMC-CREES entomology lab, 234-5498 x1432 or email her [email protected].



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