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Pest study aims to save traditional Māori crops

23 Feb, 2010

Source: Massey University

A first of its kind study aims to reveal the effects of an insect pest on traditional Māori crops and may help save them from extinction.

The tomato potato psyllid has been an established pest in New Zealand since 2006. Both adults and nymphs damage tomato, capsicum and potato crops, and the insect pest is a threat to several species harvested by Māori, such as kūmara, taewa and poroporo.

Infected plants appear stunted, yellow or brown in colour, and leaves may roll and turn pink at the margins. It is also thought the insect may carry a second disease, Candidatus Phytoplasma australiense, which caused the decline of the cabbage tree.

Master of Science student Aleise Puketapu will examine the lifecycle and epidemiology of the tomato potato psyllid.

“I will be assessing pest host preference and population dynamics,” Ms Puketapu explains.

She says this will enable growers to make informed decisions about managing and controlling the pest.

The research will provide an insight into the relationship between pest and host plant and what can be expected in terms of pest population and infestations within a single growing season.

“During the 2008–09, cropping season I was working on a growers’ guide to pests and disease affecting taewa and witnessed the devastation the tomato potato psyllid posed to Māori potatoes.”

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