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Invasive Bug Sucking Life Out of Bird's Foot Delta
By Nic Dixon, Outreach Associate
 

healthy caneHealthy Roseau Cane in Louisiana marsh  Credit Louisiana Sportsman

The iconic Bird’s Foot Delta is full of newly built land— it’s a dynamic landscape that is constantly replenished by the Mississippi river and held together with thick stands of wetland plants. Unfortunately, Roseau cane (Phragmites australis), one of the most prominent wetland plants of the area, has been dying off. This is alarming to our scientists, land managers, and duck hunters who frequently use the cane for concealment. The cause of the die off is thought to be a scale insect from Asia, Roseau cane mealybug, that finds its home on the stalk of the plant. It is unknown how the scale arrived in Louisiana. It may have been transported by birds, floating pieces of Roseau cane, or ships.

mealybugRoseau cane mealybug infesting a stalk of cane. NOLA.com


I recently went to see to the problem for myself. Accompanied by LSU wetland scientist, Dr. Andrew Nyman, we took a trip to the Bird’s Foot to survey the area. I helped Dr. Nyman collect samples and record environmental conditions in an effort to better understand the problem.

According to our Science Director, Dr. Giovanna McClenachan, there is concern that the insect could spread to agricultural crops such as sugar cane. As of early July, the scale, which was first noticed in Plaquemines Parish, had spread to areas of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.

nymanDr. Andrew Nyman surveys a stand of Roseau Cane in the Bird’s Foot Delta

“Some areas of Roseau cane that have been attacked by the scale have converted to open water and there is a fear that a large Roseau cane die-off could lead to significant land loss,” said McClenachan. “The roots of the Roseau cane help keep the marsh soil in place.”

We need your help to track this invasive bug. If you are out in the marshes of Louisiana and see patches of Roseau cane, take a minute to inspect them for the scale bug, then fill out this survey being run by Dr. Rodrigo Diaz of LSU. Dr. Diaz is working on tracking the spread of the insect as well as possible solutions to the problem. You can become a citizen scientist and help Dr. Diaz and our disappearing coast in the process.

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