ARDN tackles the identification of deadly disease vectors

Ms Fervalee Apacionado (on left), from the Bureau of Plant Industry, the Philippines and Ms Quach Qing Linh from the Department of Plant Protection, Vietnam, examine whitefly specimens in the laboratories of the University of Queensland.

Brisbane, Australia - A workshop on developing a diagnostic guide for whiteflies was conducted in the laboratories of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia on 2 - 6 April 2018.

Participants from Lao PDR, Malaysia, Philippines and Viet Nam attended the workshop, learning about the various formats available for diagnostic guides (traditional, paper-based dichotomous keys; interactive, electronic keys) and improve their understanding of whitefly taxonomy.

Whiteflies are plant-sucking bugs considered as pests in their own right and vectors of many damaging, plant diseases, including viruses affecting vegetables, sugarcane and pasture grasses. Dr. Ian Naumann from the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) emphasized the need to have an identification guide for whiteflies and added that several species of whiteflies have been at the top of watch lists for most quarantine agencies for many years. Unfortunately, they are very small, they all have a stage in their life cycle which is easy to overlook on imported products, and it is not easy to distinguish one species from the next.

The five-day workshop also provided a venue for the participants to agree on the format for a new key to pest whiteflies, the species to be included and the morphological characteristics to be scored into the keys digital matrix. The participants also agreed to work as a virtual team over the coming months to finalise the key in collaboration with the lead trainers.

One of the lead trainers, Mr. Peter Gillespie from the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries of Australia, said that the biggest issue in whiteflies identification is terminology which can be very challenging for ASEAN diagnosticians. During the workshop, Lucid was introduced to the participants as an Australian innovative software which enables scientists to build diagnostic keys with the illustrations, explanations of technical terms, and interactive properties that make life easier for non-specialists who need to use keys.

Identification of whiteflies require laboratory diagnostics to determine if whitefly characteristics, such as leg segments or surface sculpturing, are present. These characteristics are often difficult to identify and hard to see on certain whitefly specimens. With the help of Lucid, users will be able to choose which feature to consider at each step in the identification process and at same time allow the users to assess which feature can be used to provide diagnosis by the quickest pathway. Lucid provides an explanations of terminology, scientific illustrations of diagnostic features, and high-resolution, colour photographs of the insects.

Other lead trainers for the workshop were Ms Sally Cowan, an experienced entomologist from the Northern Australian Quarantine Strategy in Cairns, and Mr Matt Taylor, one of the Lucid developers.

The workshop was organised by DAWR as part of the multi-phase ASEAN Regional Diagnostic Network (ARDN) project under the AANZFTA Economic Cooperation Support Program. ARDN aims to assist AANZFTA Parties in the removal of phytosanitary impediments to trade.

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