- An invasive blackberry is threatening farmland and forests on the Galapagos
- Scientists are looking for bugs and diseases to keep the plant in check
- Farmers will oversee tests of natural enemy to beat back berry growth
Researchers and farmers in the Galapagos are waging a war against an invasive blackberry plant that is threatening the islands’ food supply.
The non-native plant, Rubus niveus, is spreading quickly, and destroying the delicate ecosystem of the archipelago, which causes problems for farming and food supply. On 25 August two science organisations from the United Kingdom teamed up with the Galapagos National Park Directorate to work with farmers on weeding out the invader.
Their strategy is to find suitable biological control agents, such as insects or diseases that would keep the plant in check. Once selected and introduced, these agents would make management of the blackberry easier and less expensive for farmers than weeding, helping to recover previously abandoned agricultural areas.
Farmers are expected to play a crucial role, says Carol Ellison, the project’s lead scientist for the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI), one of the UK partners.
“Farmers see biological control in action on their farms every day — such as natural enemies eating insect pests — so they were comfortable with the concept,” she says. “They are very supportive of the project.”
Originally from Asia, the blackberry was introduced for farming on Santa Cruz Island in the late 1960s. But after being carried from island to island by trade and travellers, the species has invaded all vegetation types, from grasslands to forests, forming dense thickets up to four metres high. Its aggressive growth displaces native plants, especially forests dominated by Scalesia, also known as daisy tree, which has already been decimated to less than 1 per cent of its original cover due to various environmental threats, the researchers warn.
The plan now is to give farmers the oversight over releasing and nurturing biological control on their land. Ellison estimates that it would take five to ten years for any natural enemy to have a significant impact on berry growth.
The goal is to reduce prevalence of blackberry to a manageable level rather than to fully eradicate it.
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