Get Up Close With Pretty but Destructive Plant Pests

When it comes to beautiful devastation, these pests have it covered.

In an effort to call attention to the impact of invaders–whether insect or plant–on food security and the environment, the International Plant Protection Convention recently wrapped up a photo contest called Pests Without Borders.

So, how big a deal are agricultural pests? Very big, IPPC says, especially because they travel the globe, packed in with the plants and flowers and fruits we bring into our stores and homes.

For example, in Southern Italy, olive trees are succumbing to a foreign bacteria that may reduce the harvest by nearly half. Italy is second only to Spain in global olive oil production, and, not to start any fights here, but many chefs consider it the best in the world. Less olive oil drives up prices, making a precious global commodity even more so.

But it’s not just oil, it’s forests, fruit and water, too. Fruit fly eradication costs agriculture millions of dollars a year–think about those annoying little guys flying around your fruit bowl in the summer, and multiply by a gazillion and a half, and you’ll get an idea of the scope of the problem berry farmers face.

Then there are invasive aquatic plants like the pretty water hyacinth are choking ecosystems far from their native South America. And we’re not even talking about the higher-order pests, like the lionfish, which some chefs have begun cooking in an effort to curb their carnivorous encroach. (See Fighting Back Lionfish for Invasive Species Awareness Week.)

baby zig zag sawfly chews through an elm leaf

Photo by Thomas Schröder, poster courtesy of IPPC

It’s the trees Thomas Schröder of the Institute for National and International Plant Health in Braunschweig, Germany, worries about. He took the winning Pests Without Borders photo when he was looking for infestations in a forest, and captured this baby zig zag elm sawfly in action. “I went there on a sunny weekend to look for the infestation and to take pictures. Luckily the damage was not very high,” he tells IPPC. But this particular type of sawfly, which arrived in Europe in about 2003, is capable of completely defoliating elms from its native east Asia. And this is a concern to European officials because after the devastation wrought by Dutch Elm Disease, many of the continent’s native species have been crossbred with sturdier Asian trees.

(For more on forest devastation by pests, see National Geographic’s coverage of the pine beetle epidemic out in the American West.)

In second place was Derric Nimmo of the United Kingdom, with this photograph of diamondback moths (Plutella xylostella). The larvae make holes in brassica crops like cabbage, broccoli and kale, and the moths lay eggs on the undersides of leaves, making them easy to miss.

poster16

These diamondback moths (Plutella xylostella) attack brassicas and are extremely insecticide resistant. Photo by Derric Nimmo. Poster courtesy of IPPC.

The Pests Without Borders photos have been turned into posters, alerting people to what the pests look like and how they are being addressed.

For more visuals on the pests in the contest, check out the IPPC shortlist.

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