Citizen scientists rally to validate biosecurity
GroundCover™ Issue: 129 July - August 2017
Ever wondered what those bugs are in your pantry eating your breakfast cereal and flour? Residents of Perth, including tech-savvy budding young scientists, were given a chance to find out more about what could be lurking in their cupboards when they signed up for the ‘Pantry Blitz’ held last August and September as part of National Science Week.
What they were looking for, in particular, was khapra beetle (Trogoderma granarium), considered the world’s most serious pest of stored grain and dry foodstuffs. If not controlled, khapra beetle can cause losses of up to 75 per cent from feeding on stored grain. Stored grain infested with khapra beetle is also a health risk due to the cast skins and hairs from larvae.
It is found in Africa, India, Russia and many Middle Eastern countries, but not Australia.
But for trade purposes, it’s not enough to say we don’t have a pest, according to a grains biosecurity officer at the Department of Agriculture and Food, WA (DAFWA), Jeff Russell. “You need data to show that you have looked for it in the right places and not found it. That is where the community can help,” he says.
People who signed up to participate in the exercise received a free pantry trap and a pheromone lure to specifically attract khapra beetles. “The Pantry Blitzers were asked to regularly check their traps and use the department’s free MyPestGuide Reporter app to photograph and report any trapped insects.”
The response to Pantry Blitz exceeded expectations, with almost 2000 people registering for a trap and 2500 pest reports received by the department from across WA. About 70 to 80 per cent of the reports submitted revealed the traps were empty of insects.
“These ‘absence’ reports are just as valuable as pest reports because each one helps to prove that WA is free from the significant biosecurity threat posed by khapra beetle,” Mr Russell says.
The most common insects trapped were cigarette and carpet beetles, which are related to khapra beetle and can look similar. “This showed that the lure was attracting the right kinds of pests and that we had asked people to look for them in the right place,” he says.
The MyPestGuide Reporter app works both ways. Taxonomists, whose job it was to identify the insects, replied to the trap users about what they had found.
“Most of the Pantry Blitzers lived in metropolitan areas at the end of transport routes. This was important because it’s thought that one of the main ways khapra beetle could spread if it did make it into the country was via hitch-hiking in deliveries of goods that they like to hide in.
“Given that khapra beetle larvae can survive for several years without food, it’s a good thing that we have 2000 people armed and ready to report it.”
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