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Semi-Automated Method Developed to ID European Corn Borer; Destructive Pest Causes $2 Billion in Damage Annually in U.S. Alone; Wing Venation Pattern in Corn Borer Moths Is Key; Improved ID May Allow Better Control of This Pest

Farmers who need to control the destructive European corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis) may soon be able to distinguish it from look-alike species by simply scanning an image of its wing into a computer and tapping a few keys. A technique developed by Polish scientists marks the first time that measurements of key structural features in the wing have been used to identify the borer, a potentially major advance in controlling the pest. The new identification method was developed by Dr. Lukasz Przybylowicsz, Dr. Michal Pniak, and Dr. Adam Tofilski, and it is described in an open-access article published online on October 20, 2015 in the Journal of Economic Entomology. The article is titled “Semiautomated Identification of European Corn Borer (Lepidoptera: Crambidae.” The European corn borer is a prime pest on corn, but also impacts more than 200 other crops, and, by some estimates, causes up to $2 billion in damage annually in the United States alone. Most farmers are not able to identify adult corn borers or distinguish these destructive pests from other species. The identification method developed by the scientists focuses on the arrangement of veins in the wings of the moths, applying a technique known as geometric morphometry. Essentially, it examines and compares the geometry of an organism's structures -- in other words, where its parts are positioned in relation to one another. Computerized statistical analysis is key to attaining results. The researchers selected nine points -- called "landmarks" -- at junctions of veins in the central part of the wing. Landmarks, such as where veins join, are a common feature among species. A mass of geometrical information based on coordinates of the landmarks was then entered into software used for identification, and when the shape of wing venation was compared, significant differences were seen between species. The accuracy of the test was 97 percent. Before farmers can be sure of results, the scientists note, the results "should be confirmed by further studies." Once they are done, the researchers say "this method can be used by farmers to identify this pest and apply control measures at optimal time."

[Press release] [Journal of Economic Entomology article]