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Tiny Moth Tackles Invasive Fern

Scientists release Brown Lygodium Moths in Central Florida to help prevent the spread of Old World climbing fern, an invasive vine that’s winding its way across Florida.


Lake Wales, Florida | May 15, 2014

 

For native and rare Central Florida plants, a tiny moth may just be the answer to the suffocating spread of the Old World climbing fern.

The Nature Conservancy and the USDA’s Invasive Plant Research Lab have just released 7,100 Brown Lygodium Moth (Neomusotima conspurcatalis) near Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve in Polk County to help prevent the northern spread of Old World climbing fern, an invasive vine that’s winding its way across Florida.

Old World climbing fern (Lygodium microphyllum) smothers everything in its path – even pine, oak and cypress trees – and rare plants such as Celestial lily, Hartwrightia, and Florida willow. It destroys habitat for many animals, including Florida black bear, the endangered wood stork and Sherman’s fox squirrel.

This climbing fern is considered the greatest threat of Florida’s many invasive, non-native plants. It has nearly overwhelmed parts of south Florida and is quickly spreading north, infecting more than 100,000 acres.

The Conservancy’s Central Florida Lygodium Strategy has worked to stop the spread of the fern using herbicide applications to treat infestations on private lands to complement work being done to control the plant on public lands. But the small moth offers scientists another tool in the toolbox for treating this invasive plant, making treatments of infestations less expensive.

“The release of this fern-eating moth is helping to minimize Old World climbing fern infestations in south Florida,” said Cheryl Millett, biologist with the Conservancy. “It may take some time for the population to build up enough to make a big difference, but we’re hoping they will thrive and spread to nearby infestations, boosting our effectiveness and making our on-the-ground work less expensive.”

This Australian native is the third biological control agent brought into the United States to combat climbing fern. The USDA’s Invasive Plant Research Lab subjects biocontrol species, like the moths, to rigorous testing in their secure quarantine lab to ensure that the moths will munch only climbing fern and not harm native ferns or other vegetation.

“Where moths are established in South Florida, we see large impacts on the fern during population explosions,” said Melissa Smith, ecologist with USDA’s Invasive Plant Research Lab.The Conservancy’s invasive species strategy is based on decades of experience and science-based leadership.

The partnership with USDA’s Invasive Plant Research Lab is a great example of how this strategy can lead to better management practices across Florida and help protect the state’s native plants and wildlife. 


The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org

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