New technology set to speed up the detection of unwanted insects
The establishment of unwanted exotic pests represents one of the biggest threats to New Zealand’s agricultural economy. New technology which will contribute to protecting the country against the threat of exotic insect pests is now at an advanced stage of development.
The Better Border Biosecurity (B3) research programme, aims to improve New Zealand's biosecurity through the exclusion, detection and elimination of exotic pests and plant diseases. B3 is a collaboration of three CRIs plus Lincoln University, which works closely with the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Department of Conservation. Its executive director is AgResearch scientist Dr Stephen Goldson.
Dr Goldson says that current methods of surveillance for the early detection of invasive species of insects are costly and modern technology may enable costs to be reduced and effectiveness to be increased.
“Each season, thousands of traps are baited with specific lures to capture and detect high-impact pests such as gypsy moth and fruit flies. The cost of deploying and inspecting these traps is in the millions of dollars each year”.
The frequency of inspection is one of the major influences on cost and also on the effectiveness of the trapping programme. The more frequent the inspections, the more effective the system, but the more costly it is.
AgResearch scientist Dr Scott Hardwick is heading an AgResearch-led collaboration between three Crown Research Institutes (AgResearch, Plant and Food and Scion); the Ministry for Primary Industries, University of Padova, Italy and private enterprise (Mi5 Limited) that has been investigating and developing the use of self-reporting cameras in pheromone baited biosecurity traps.
The concept was conceived by AgResearch’s Biocontrol and Biosecurity team which, in 2004, developed various prototypes. These demonstrated that self-reporting cameras could be used to monitor insect traps, but that their utility was limited by poor reliability and short battery life.
Commercial partners were sought to help overcome these problems, and eventually collaboration was developed with Mi5 Ltd which was producing self-reporting camera systems for home and commercial security. The partnership between B3, Mi5 Limited and the University of Padova has since been adapting and testing this technology for specialised use in insect traps.
With the technology capabilities of Mi5 and the support of the Ministry for Primary Industries Dr Hardwick says the system is now ready for live field testing.
The traps will use camera technology similar to that found in mobile phones. “What is unique about this system, however, is the way that the self-reporting camera’s software processes the outgoing images to reduce the unit’s power consumption to increase battery life,” says Dr Hardwick.
Presently five scientists and one engineer from the organisations involved are contributing their entomological, biological, software development and engineering expertise to further develop the self-reporting camera system to monitor insect traps.
During the past three years tests have been conducted with the self-reporting camera-monitored traps in New Zealand, Australia and Italy. The targets of these trials include insect pests of pasture, horticulture and forestry. In New Zealand, a recent trial successfully used the cameras to monitor light traps for the presence of porina moth, a significant pasture pest.
The trapping unit includes a six megapixel camera with a short focal length lens, a battery, an LED flash unit for low light conditions, a cellular modem and a backup memory card. The cameras can be programmed to take images of trap contents at regular intervals or they can be selected and interrogated remotely by inspectors via the intranet or cellular network.
The images are uploaded via the cellular network to a secure server where inspectors can view them on the internet, or have the photos sent directly to their computer or smart-phone by email.
One of the most important factors in biosecurity is early detection and that's where this technology will play an important role. As the system is rolled out, however, the sheer volume of images from the thousands of traps around the country would still make inspection a time consuming process. To minimise this, Plant and Food Research scientist Dr Ashraf El-Sayed has produced image recognition software that can identify when an insect has been caught. The software is now being refined so it can differentiate between the insect species for which surveillance is being conducted and any by-catch.
“The new technology will ensure a much quicker response to any unwanted insect incursion and a higher probability of successful containment and eradication,” says Dr Hardwick.
The national significance of an effective surveillance and control system at the border for the pastoral sector is critical, given both the current value of exports being in excess of $21 billion per annum; and economic costs for the primary sector with established weeds and pests at around $2 billion per annum.
More directly, the remote reporting camera surveillance system has potential to generate substantial cost savings in biosecurity surveillance for target invertebrate pests. For high impact pests such as Fruit Fly and Gypsy Moth, around 40% or more savings could be achieved on current investment, representing at least $0.75 million per annum on biosecurity surveillance costs for these pests.
Development of this and other new technologies which enable remote identification of suspects needing investigation opens up possibilities for expanding the scope of current targeted surveillance to cover a broader range of high impact pest threats, enabling them to be detected promptly and perhaps even before the border.
Total project investment from 2004-2012 was $218,000 from Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, B3 joint venture, Mi5 and University of Padova.