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Bay Area Bird Blog » Light Brown Apple Moth damage in New Zealand
29th 2008
Light Brown Apple Moth damage in New Zealand

Posted under science & wildlife (general)

I don’t have much information about people who visit this blog — mostly I just know that somebody came — but if they click on a specific story or on a “read more of this entry” link, then I know that.  So I know that much of my modest traffic recently has been reading my recent entry about the Light Brown Apple Moth.  In that entry (I suggest you read it before continuing with this one) I mention that I don’t trust either the pro-spraying or anti-spraying sides, since neither seems to be trying to present an objective view.  I still feel that way, and I still don’t know how I feel about spraying; I’m inclined against it (it does seem potentially dangerous, and it seems unlikely to eliminate the moths) but I freely admit that my assessment, based on the few facts at my disposal, could be wrong.  So I’ve been trying to find more information that I trust, that would allow me to weigh the potential damage from the moth against the potential damage from the anti-moth spraying.  When I say “damage from the moth” I don’t just mean a dollar cost from agricultural losses, but also damage to the ecosystem at large; similarly, when I say “damage from the spraying” I don’t mean a dollar cost, I mean health impacts and ecosystem impacts.

I’m a long way from having answers to these, but I have turned up some reports that I think are trustworthy about one small aspect of the issue, which is the amount of agricultural damage in New Zealand caused by the moth.  It’s worth pointing out that the experience in California would be different from New Zealand: there are different predators, different parasites, different climate zones, different agricultural mix, etc.  I don’t know if the damage in California (or in the rest of the U.S., to which the moth will eventually spread) will be relatively better or worse than New Zealand, and I don’t think anyone else knows this either, so this is only a small part of the puzzle.

  1. is a website of “Arthropods of Economic Interest” in New Zealand.   It says “This species is a serious pest of pome and stone fruits, and many other horticultural crops in Australia and New Zealand. Damage is caused by larvae feeding on the foliage, buds, shoots and fruits, but fruit damage has the greatest economic impact. The larvae feed mainly from the surface, often where a leaf is tied to the fruit or between fruits, and this can lead to the formation of irregular blemishes. These may callus over or allow the entry of rot organisms. Minor damage can take the form of pin-pricks or “stings”. The larvae may also cause internal damage by entering fruits through the calyx. Short-stemmed fruits in clusters are especially susceptible to damage. In the absence of insecticide, the percentage damage to fruits in Australia usually ranges from 5 to 20 percent and can exceed 30 percent. In New Zealand, damage to unsprayed crops is commonly 50 percent (Wearing et al., 1991).”
  2. is a news story about a New Zealand winery that won a prize for sustainable agricultural practices.  It says “Another element in Rolston’s vineyard practices is a biological control for the main insect pest, the light brown apple moth caterpillar. Planting the flowering species of buckwheat, phacelia and mustard provides host material for parasitic wasps that prey on the caterpillars as well as attracting a myriad of other insects beneficial to the vineyard.” 
  3. is a scholarly article about leafroller moths (including the light brown apple moth, which it refers to by its latin name) in a pine plantation — I guess that means a tree farm.  It says “The results show  that E. postvittana is about as common (in terms of daily catch/trap) in plantation forests as it is in fruit orchards in Canterbury [New Zealand] where it often dominates the leafroller complex (e.g. Suckling et al. 1990; Suckling & Burnip 1993).”
  4. isn’t from New Zealand, it’s from a climate research group in Australia, where the light brown apple moth is native.  This report discusses implications of global warming on pest populations and so on, and also gives an estimate of current damage from the light brown apple moth: “Other temperate pests, such as the light brown apple moth, which causes fruit damage costing $21 million  per year, would be displaced from the warmer parts of its current range.” I assume this damage number is the value of the spoiled fruit only, and doesn’t include the money spent on pesticides and other control methods, without which the damage number would be higher, but I’m not positive about that.

It seems clear from these reports that the moth really does cause substantial agricultural damage in Australia and New Zealand, in contrast to what some of the anti-spraying people have been saying. Some people have been saying the pest is only damaging “theoretically” or “on paper”, but, at least in Australia and New Zealand, it is damaging in real life, too.  This does not mean spraying is necessarily justified!  It’s just one of many relevant facts that people should be looking at to make a judgment. I’d like to find some facts, or at least well-informed speculation, about health hazards from the spraying. The pro-spraying people say (predictably) that the spray is safe, but is there any reason to believe that’s true? If anyone can point me in the right direction for some useful data, I’d appreciate it. 

10 Responses to “Light Brown Apple Moth damage in New Zealand”

  1. isabelle on 01 Mar 2008 at 1:12 am #

    —> Summary of 643 complaints of illnesses received by state agencies and public interest groups in Fall 2007. Compiled by Mike Lynberg and Help Our Peninsula Environment (HOPE)

    Make sure to download the appendix for a first-hand impression of the received illness reports. They speak for themselves.

  2. Robert Dolezal on 28 Aug 2008 at 4:08 pm #

    Thank you for stating the facts and giving sources regarding the economic impact of Light Brown Apple Moth in New Zealand and Australia.

    For some reason, the individuals pushing theoretical agendas fail to reconcile these commonly available Internet sources with their worldviews.

    You are correct. The pros and cons for spraying populated areas for this pest were poorly supported by then-available science. What has come out in the interim shows that Checkmate-LBAM was among the safest control alternatives, but there are still many scientific voices out.

    Thanks for raising the issues in your forum

    Robert Dolezal
    California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers

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