TWU biology department looks to beetles to guard Lower Mainland water

Langley, British Columbia—They are small beetles with a big name and an even bigger purpose. And they are making their home at Trinity Western University. The beetles, officially called Galerucella calmariensis, are part of a project aimed at solving a growing problem on the West Coast—the invasion of a harmful plant called Purple Loosestrife.

“You can see Purple Loosestrife along Fraser Highway, out towards Surrey and throughout Brydon Lagoon in Langley,” says Simon Stopps, B.Sc., a recent graduate from Trinity Western who is assisting with the project. “It looks pretty, but it causes all kinds of damage to our run-off water systems and wetlands.”

The plant, originally from Europe, chokes out native plants and clogs waterways. It produces a large number of seeds and also reproduces by re-rooting from pieces of root and stalk, making it nearly impossible to get rid of. “People have sought to chop it down, burn it and spray it. None of these methods have worked well,” says Stopps. “We’re testing the effectiveness of one of its natural enemies, the Galerucella calmariensis. This beetle feeds on the plant.”

As a partner in the project which is piloted by a masters student at UBC as well as the Langley Field Naturalists, Trinity Western University will house the beetles for the remainder of the summer before turning them loose on test plots in the Lower Mainland.

“Last summer the Langley Field Naturalists used various methods in an attempt to get rid of Purple Loosestrife at Brydon Lagoon, a bird sanctuary in Langley,” says David Clements, PhD, associate professor of biology at Trinity Western University. “That will be one of the targets for the release of the beetles this summer.”

The beetles currently reside in two, 2-metre cubed tents on Trinity Western’s campus. Within each tent are a wading pool and 30 plants of Purple Loosestrife. The beetles live and feed off of the plants. So far, the beetle count is at 200, but many more are on the way. “We’ve already found eggs and larvae,” says Stopps.

The undeveloped woodlands on Trinity Western’s property, serving as TWU’s ecosystem study area, are presently Purple Loosestrife-free. The presence of Purple Loosestrife in the two tents has kept Stopps busy checking to ensure that the plant does not escape. “We’re obviously concerned about the release of Purple Loosestrife on campus,” says Stopps. “We don’t have to worry unless it goes to seed, and it has been prevented from doing so by the beetles. If it starts going to seed we’ll nip the tops off and burn the plants before they can do any damage.”

And while the Purple Loosestrife is a problem, some have been concerned that the beetles may be a problem as well. However, Clements assures that there is nothing to worry about. “The beetles have been carefully and extensively tested on native plants and they are not willing to eat native plants. So when they have destroyed all of the Purple Loosestrife, their population goes down as well.”

Though this method of control is only in its beginning stages in B.C., it has already proved useful. “It was successful in Chilliwack where a field of Purple Loosestrife was devastated by beetles,” says Clements.

For now, the beetles will remain in their dwellings at Trinity Western University under the care and supervision of Stopps. “I make sure that they are fed and watered and that they are heading through their life cycle appropriately,” says Stopps. “They’re pretty low maintenance.”

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a privately funded Christian liberal arts university enrolling 2,763 students this year. With a broad-based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 34 major areas ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 12 graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.

Last Updated: 2012-08-21
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