This project tests the hypothesis that we can enhance current biocontrol agents by manipulating the microbiome of biocontrol agents or pests. This manipulation will accentuate the virulence of transmitted viruses and/or deliver microbes that cause specific pandemics in target pest populations.
Biocontrol can be an effective and environmentally friendly method of pest species suppression. However, recent Bio-Protection Research Centre research identified situations where biocontrol fails, as a result of rapid evolution in targeted pest species or the development of resistance to pesticides.
This raises the question: are there ways we could exploit the search capabilities of natural enemies, especially parasitoids or predators, to deliver more effective pest control rather than just suppression?
The introduction of Varroa mite into New Zealand is a good example; this mite selects for, and vectors, virulent strains of honeybee viruses. As a consequence, commercial honeybee populations now rely on human delivered miticide treatments for survival. Consistent with this, a growing literature shows that modifying the microbiota of pests can usefully alter their physiology. Such enhanced biocontrol agents can then be used in resilient landscape design (Pou 3).
Our team is assessing the microbiome and virome associated with Argentine stem weevil and its parasitoid control agent Microctonus hyperodae from multiple New Zealand locations. In addition, by examining historic samples, we have identified a novel virus infecting this species.