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The Agricultural Research Council (ARC), on behalf of the South African National Collection of Insects (SANC), recently held a webinar entitled, Entomology – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The webinar aimed to demonstrate the important role SANC plays in the agricultural industry and related areas of interest.
SANC – valuable asset to agriculture
Dr Isabel Rong from the ARC gave an introduction to the webinar and introduced the SANC. The SANC houses over 3,5 million insect specimens and offers material for continued research. SANC contributes to the National Science Collection Facility and Bio Bank of South Africa. Rong stated that SANC had issued 16 publications during 2021 and 2022 based on its collections and/or usage of the collection’s database. According to Rong the collection made it possible to establish DNA barcodes of specimens for bio-surveillance of plant and insect specimens.
The SANC has aligned itself with the United Nations’ (UN) sustainable development goals and has achieved several of these goals, including quality education, decent work conditions, good economic growth and innovation. The SANC offers training and skills development relating to biosystematics.
The good of arthropods
Dr Diedrich Visser of the ARC-VIMP explained that there are beneficial arthropods, or insects, in agricultural ecosystems. The ARC-VIMP focusses on the identification and naming of athropods and determining whether an arthropod is good or bad. Visser said this requires a delicate balance, as a good arthropod can also have bad qualities and thus be classified as a bad arthropod or pest. This is where the role of the taxonomist becomes particularly important.
According to Visser there are various arthropods such as pollinators, predators, parasitoids and decomposers. Some of these are beneficial to agriculture as they are a natural pest control methods for crops. For example, a parasitoid can be beneficial when their host is a bad arthropod. A good arthropod can be considered as bad when one arthropod preys on another, such as a lady beetle preying on other lady beetle or when predatory ants protect sucking worms in order to feed on the honeydew they produce.
The bad of arthropods
Jan Hendrik Venter, Director of Plant Health at the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD), focussed on the bad arthropods. The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) classifies a bad arthropod or pest as a plant feeding insect mite or nematode, or disease-causing organism.
According to Venter, the concept of a national plant health policy as a regulatory and policy document will offer guidance and encourage a culture of notifying role-players when a new pest has been detected in South Africa. The reason for this is intervention to curb the spread of bad arthropods affecting good arthropods. Venter said that there are pests with no natural enemies and the treatment of bad pests are therefore difficult to control given factors such as insecticide resistance, identification, costs and lack of interested from pesticide companies to create a pesticide or insecticide. Pest control is a form of food security and helps the industry to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goal of no hunger.
The ugly of arthropods
Dr Elleunorah Allsopp of the ARC-Infruitec elaborated on Rong’s introduction regarding the importance of the SANC. Allsopp stated that the national collection forms the basis of further research and offers a good starting point. Allsopp added that the collection creates a database against which to check new detections. It also prevents an existing specimen from being classified as a new pathogen or pest.
Thus, the importance of a barcode system that is connected to a collection, and which is accessible to researchers and clients such as the ARC and national research institutes, is vital. The barcode system assists with the continuous updating of the database as new insects and pests are discovered and identified.
Allsopp referred to a new research project that serves as an example of applied research linked to SANC. This project is a collaboration with ARC-PHP Biosystematics, and is funded by the SA Table Grape Industry (SATI) and Raisins SA. The project focusses on identifying the leafhopper species that targets table and raisin grape vineyards in the Northern Cape. While natural vegetation is being removed due to the expansion of plantations, new pests are noted and documented. These pests are lured by the new vegetation. Allsopp stressed that there is still a lot of research needed on the application of pesticides and their chemical residues on crops, the latter being a concern for consumers and the international market. – Phillip Crafford, Plaas Media