A cheap way to protect coffee crops from boring beetles

Mar 07, 2019

FEW PESTS wreak more havoc on coffee plantations than the berry-borer beetle. In Brazil alone its depredations are reckoned to cost $300m a year, so keeping the insects under control is a priority for plantation owners around the world. That is easier said than done. Berry borers spend most of their lives inside the berries. Their eggs hatch there. Their larvae feed, grow and pupate there. And their adults mate there. Only pregnant females seeking another berry to lay their eggs actually see the light of day. This makes attacking the beetles with insecticides tricky.

Researchers have, however, known for some time that a species of Central American ant called Azteca sericeasur is adept at keeping berry-borer populations at bay. These ants live in trees grown alongside coffee bushes to provide shade—for coffee bushes do not thrive in direct sunlight. In particular, the ants prefer to nest in a tree called the cuaniquil.

The question is how to encourage Azteca’s foraging workers down from their cuaniquil eyries and into coffee bushes in large enough numbers to keep berry borers under control. And, as they report in Biotropica, Esteli Jimenez-Soto of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Jonathan Morris of the University of Michigan think they...

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