High-voltage decoys can alert for emerald ash borer and other tree pests, say researchers

Decoy female emerald ash borer beetles which electrocute males which attempt to mate with them could provide early warning of the devastating tree pest, an international team of researchers has said.

Image: Michael Domingue/Penn State
Image: Michael Domingue/Penn State

The researchers, including entomologists and engineers at Penn State University in the USA, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Hungarian Forest Research Institute and the US Department of Agriculture, created a range of decoys by various means including 3D printing.

"We also coated a dead female beetle with a vapour of nickel, and used the nickelized shell to fabricate two matching moulds in the shape of a resting beetle," said Penn State engineering professor Akhlesh Lakhtakia.

"The finished bioreplicated decoys retained the surface texture of the beetle at the nanoscale. Additionally, we painted some decoys a metallic green."

The bioreplicated and 3D-printed decoys, as well as actual dead female beetles, were pinned to leaves in forests in Hungary to see which best attracted wild males, along with traps configured with decoys bearing a 4,000-volt charge.

Both types of synthetic decoys, as well as the dead pinned females, drew initial flights by males, but they nearly always landed on either the dead females or the more realistic bioreplicated decoys, rather than the simpler 3D-printed decoys.

They tended to remain on the bioreplicated decoys only briefly, but this was sufficient to stun and capture them in the traps.

Penn State postdoctoral fellow Michael Domingue said: "We have gained new insights into how to manipulate the behavior of emerald ash borers and similar pests in ways that can help to trap them and monitor where they might be doing damage."

The researchers now aim to further refine the traps to maximize their potential as part of an early detection tool for emerald ash borers, while also applying the same approach to other invasive pests.

The beetle has killed tens of millions of native ash trees in North America since its arrival from China in 2002. Its arrival in the UK from continental Europe is considered inevitable by tree pest experts.

The results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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