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Pine pests on the Turks and Caicos Islands

Scientists are studying the insects causing the decline of the Caribbean pine on Turks and Caicos and searching for chemical markers for unhealthy trees.

Collecting and cataloguing pine samples in the Turks and Caicos Islands
Collecting and cataloguing pine samples in the Turks and Caicos Islands (Image: Martin Hamilton)

Pine trees on the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) are under threat from environmental stresses that include disturbance, water shortage and invasive insect pests. A collaborative project between the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTS) team at Kew and the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) in TCI is collecting insect samples for identification by entomologists at the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), UK.

Insect surveys

The most serious pest of these pines is the scale insect known as pine tortoise scale, Toumeyella parvicornis. An article by Malumphy et al. (2012) has recently been published reporting on the devastating impact of this invasive pest in TCI. Working with the Bahamas National Trust the UKOTS team have observed that pines in the Bahamas also suffer environmental stress due to human activity, but are relatively healthy compared to the trees in TCI. Although T. parvicornis has not yet been detected in the Bahamas, several other pests, including other scale insects, are known to be attacking the pines.

pine tortoise scale insect

Adult female pine tortoise scales feeding on a pine needle. The scales on the needles are elongate, oval and moderately convex (Image: Fera).

Scale insect pests feed on a plant’s sap causing die-back and mortality in extreme cases. Their honeydew encourages the growth of sooty moulds, which blanket the needles and impede photosynthesis. In many areas in TCI mature trees are absent because they have already been killed by the insect pests.

During recent fieldwork on these islands, supported by the Bentham-Moxon Trust and Kew Guild, Kew staff members Martin Hamilton, Paul Green and Marcella Corcoran collected samples of insect pests from Abaco and New Providence (Bahamas) and North Caicos, Middle Caicos and Pine Cay (TCI) for identification. One of the insects found on the pines is a ladybird, Cycloneda sanguinea, which may feed on the scale insects, and is being investigated further.

By cataloguing the occurrence and distribution of pests it is hoped that early warning of invasive insects can be given.

Can changes in the chemistry of pines be used as an early indicator of tree health?

The team have also collected samples of Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis from the Bahamas and TCI and these were extracted in solvent to compare their chemical composition.

Preliminary data suggest that the chemical fingerprints of healthy and unhealthy trees are different, possibly due to more significant environmental upheaval in TCI. Differences between the chemistry of healthy and unhealthy pines could identify compounds that protect healthy Bahaman trees from insect attack.

Item from Martin Hamilton (UKOTS Programme Co-ordinator, RBG Kew)
Kew Scientist, issue 40

Article Reference:

Malumphy, C., Hamilton, M. A., Manco, B. N., Green, P. W. C., Sanchez, M. D., Corcoran, M. & Salamanca, E. (2012). Toumeyella parvicornis (Hemiptera: Coccidae), causing severe decline of Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Florida Entomologist 95, 113-119 [open access]

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