Mites from Space: Tracking a Microscopic Pest in Puerto Rico

Category: Identifying Invasive Species Extent & Critical Species Habitat
Project Team: Puerto Rico Agriculture
Team Location: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center – Greenbelt, Maryland

The Puerto Rico Agriculture team used vegetation indices to identify palm stands infested with the red palm mite. Image Credit: Puerto Rico Agriculture team

The Puerto Rico Agriculture team used vegetation indices to identify palm stands infested with the red palm mite. Image Credit: Puerto Rico Agriculture team

Authors:
Dr. Sara Lubkin
Julia Marrs
Sean McCartney
Alison Thieme

Mentors/Advisors:
Dr. Michael Cosh (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service)
Dr. Ronald Ochoa (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service)
Dr. John Bolten (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Abstract:

The rapid spread of the red palm mite, Raoiella indica, has devastated coconut palm, banana, and plantain crops throughout the Americas and the Caribbean since its introduction into the hemisphere in 2003. Red palm mites feed via the stomata on plant hosts’ leaves, using specialized mouthparts, resulting in accelerated water loss, decreased crop yield, and a characteristic pattern of leaf yellowing and senescence that can be remotely detected using multispectral imagery and calculated spectral vegetation indices from Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+), Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager (OLI), Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) Hyperion, IKONOS platforms, and aerial imagery. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Resource Service (ARS) and the University of Puerto Rico, the distribution of red palm mite infestation in Puerto Rico was tracked from 2002 to 2016, and maps were produced showing the geographic spread of the red palm mite infestation during this time. The high adaptability of red palm mites to multiple plant hosts, adverse environmental conditions, and diverse dispersal pathways, plus the absence of known biotic countermeasures, makes the mite an urgent environmental and economic threat throughout Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. Understanding past red palm mite invasions will help to prevent its spread into proximal agricultural areas and limit exposure and resulting crop destruction. The tracking methodology and tools established here can be applied to other geographical areas in an effort to mitigate current mite infestations and to monitor and prevent probable future invasions.

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