Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LOS LUNAS - New Mexico State University entomologists believe a microscopic mite imported from southern Europe may substantially reduce the spread of field bindweed, an invasive plant that infests agricultural land throughout the state.
Cooperative Extension Service entomologists released the mite, commonly called bindweed gall mite, on three bindweed-infested sites at NMSU's Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas on July 14. They also released smaller numbers on infested sites at the agricultural science centers at Clovis and Portales, and on NMSU's main campus in Las Cruces.
The mite feeds exclusively on bindweed, and has proven effective in stunting the plant's spread in controlled releases at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station at Bushland, Texas, where the mite was imported from southern Europe in 1989.
"I've already been quite impressed with the results so far in Texas, and now I'm excited about its potential in New Mexico," said Dave Thompson, an entomologist with NMSU's Agricultural Experiment Station who specializes in biological weed control. "It will not get rid of bindweed in the state, but I think it will at least allow us to control bindweed a whole lot better."
Bindweed is a particularly invasive and noxious plant that is especially abundant in the middle Rio Grande corridor. Herbicides are not very effective in controlling the weed, which infests farms and gardens and makes it difficult to grow vegetables and other crops. "It's a very tough weed to control," said entomologist Mike English, superintendent of the Los Lunas science center. "It produces an awful lot of seed, and it just lasts forever."
Entomologists are carefully monitoring the sites where they released the mite to determine its effect in curbing bindweed and to measure how fast the mite spreads. Once the sites are substantially covered with mites, the entomologists plan to mow down the bindweed and spread the shavings in more areas. The goal is to convert the Los Lunas science center and other places where the mite was released into insectaries where the mites will be offered free to the public.
"We hope to get the thing kind of established by next year," English said. "My hope is to be able to give anybody that comes by a little zip-lock bag full of material that they can take home and put on their own bindweed. The idea is to get the mite pretty generally spread throughout the mid-Rio Grande Valley.
"Those who use the material need not worry about mites attacking other plants.
"It's very host-specific, which means it likes bindweed and doesn't like anything else," English said.
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