Swiss, US scientists find way to predict insect damage

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Gooseberries, happily ripe, waiting for a pie crust

BERN, SWITZERLAND – The currant clearwing moth may not be a household name, but it you love gooseberry pie or jam you’ll want to thank a pair of researchers who’ve found a way to predict the damage it can cause to farmers’ commercial crops of the fruit.

Ian Pearse from Cornell Universisty in the US and Florian Altermatt from the Swiss federal aquatic research station Eawag have developed a method for predicting how native insects will adapt their diets to include non-native plants introduced into an area. Much is known about insect-plant colonization and interaction, but mostly thanks to research after the fact.

The new research, published in the Wiley journal Ecology Letters, plugs a gap by providing a means to predict diet changes, which could have significant implications for preventing crop damage. It could help farmers reduce or adapt the use of insecticides and encourage more farmers to raise organic products. The research has implications for forests, as well.

In the case of gooseberries, the currant clearwing moth has taken a fancy to European crops of cultivated gooseberries introduced from North America. The researchers accurately predicted a switch by the currant clearwing moth, known to cause damage in agricultural gooseberry plantations, to the new plants, among other dietary changes by other insects.