Cornell University researchers have discovered two native fungi that could kill the spotted lanternfly, an invasive pest that feeds on grape vines and apple trees. ( Courtesy Cornell University )

Cornell University researchers discovered two local fungi that could potentially curb an invasive insect that has New York vineyard owners on edge.

The spotted lanternfly feeds on more than 70 plant species, including grape vines and apple trees, according to a Cornell news release.

Cornell professor of entomology Ann Hajek and Eric Clifton, a postdoctoral researcher in Hajek’s lab, have studied the fungi and wrote a paper on their findings, “A pair of native fungal pathogens drives decline of a new invasive herbivore.”

The researchers describe how two unrelated fungi — Batkoa major and Beauveria bassiana — have been decimating spotted lanternfly populations near Reading, Pa., according to the release.

“The finding is important because these naturally-occurring pathogens could be used to develop methods for more environmentally-friendly control of this damaging invader,” Hajek said in the release.

Native to China, Taiwan and Vietnam, the spotted lanternfly was first discovered in southeastern Pennsylvania in 2014 and has spread to seven more states. Adult insects occasionally have been sighted in New York, according to the release. 

Entomologists and growers believe it’s just a matter of time before spotted lanternflies settle in the state of New York, which has a nearly $5 billion grape, grape juice and wine industry, and also stands as the country’s second-largest apple producing state, according to the release. 

In Pennsylvania, spotted lanternflies damaged at least a half-dozen vineyards from 2017 to 2018.

Louela Castrillo, an entomologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service on Cornell’s campus, and Andrii Gryganskyi, a molecular biologist at L.F. Lambert Spawn Co., are also co-authors of the USDA-funded study. 

“It’s a great example of how a major new invasive herbivore can be suppressed by native pathogens,” Clifton said in the release. “Nobody stepped in to do this; it all happened naturally.”

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