NEWS

Failure to act will harm the country’s biodiversity

The vast influx of palms into the European countries of the Mediterranean over the past decade has caused serious economic harm to countries such as Spain, Italy, Greece and Cyprus. A decade ago, the red palm weevil appeared in Israel, Egypt and Jordan, where date palm plantations are of great economic importance. Israel alone has managed to control the problem, spending more than 6 million euros, funding neighboring countries, and strictly enforcing the rules: banning the import and transportation of palms from areas with infested plants, destruction of affected plants and installation of a network of traps. The red palm weevil has spread to northern Mediterranean countries via imported palms, attacking mainly the Canary palm. Other pests that attack palms have appeared in Europe: Paysandisia archon, the palm borer moth from South America, has been found in France, Italy, Spain, Greece and the UK. Pseudophilus testaceus, the date-palm stem borer, comes from Asia. One insect was found in Greece in 2006. The four-spotted coconut weevil, Diocalandra frumentii, native to southeast Asia and Oceania, has been found in Africa, Latin America and Spain. Also a threat are the American palm weevil, Rhynchophorus palmarum, and the fruit stalk borer, Oryctes spp, native to Asia. The red palm weevil has already caused losses of more than 500,000 euros, while other insects such as the palm borer moth are making inroads. So far the infestations have been found only in gardens and have not spread to natural stands of the endemic Phoenix theophrasti. Immediate action is essential to implement the restrictions on imports of palms as set out in the Agriculture Ministry’s circular of 26/4/2007 (which should have been done in 2005). The ministries concerned must fund programs for rooting out insects that threaten palms, support the efforts of scientists at regional plant protection centers, municipalities, prefectures and research foundations (which should also have been done in 2005 when it would have cost far less). Failure to act will maximize the economic damage and threaten the biodiversity of Greece (Phoenix theophrasti), as well as its standing as a civilized country. (1) Dimitris Kontodivas is an entomologist at the Benaki Phytological Institute and secretary of the Greek Entomological Society.