A national team of scientists is working from Florida to California in the citrus industry’s ongoing battle again the Asian citrus psyllid.

Scientists focus on citrus pest bait in psyllid battle

Among the projects is an effort led by Joseph Patt, an entomologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service office in Westlaco, Texas.

Patt is trying to determine which petitgrain oil would best mimic the volatiles emitted naturally by citrus trees, said Ted Batkin, president of the Citrus Research Board, Visalia, Calif.

The volatiles, scientists believe, help Asian citrus psyllids find host plants on which to reproduce. If Patt and his staff are able to isolate a petitgrain oil that could impersonate the natural volatiles, it could be used as bait and mixed with a pesticide, Batkin said.

“We like the attractant and kill aspect, because that’s not chemical and doesn’t impact human health,” he said.

The Asian citrus psyllids are carriers of huanglongbing, the fatal disease also known as HLB and citrus greening.

The Citrus Research Board is helping to fund all of the projects aimed at eliminating HLB’s threat to the citrus industry, Batkin said.

Patt’s research has resulted in a synthetic mixture that in greenhouse testing proved to be attractive to the psyllids, according to a study recently published in the scientific journal, Environmental Entomology. Field tests are now under way.

“We know, and have always known, that there’s some volatile that’s an attractant,” Batkin said. “We think other of the projects will define that attractant more specifically.”

Others involved in the psyllid eradication projects funded by the research board are scientists in Florida and at the University of California-Riverside and a private research firm in Irvine, Calif., he said.

“We’re really excited about where that whole team is going,” Batkin said.

By the end of 2011, it is anticipated that the various research projects will have identified all of the natural and synthetic attractants, he said.

“It’s more a short term approach than a long term approach,” Batkin said.