Charles Darwin's famous voyage on the HMS Beagle led him around the world on a collecting journey that culminated in his theory of evolution. In 1835, the Beagle traveled to the island of Chiloé, and there, Darwin discovered and sent potatoes back to England. Darwin's interest in the potato and potato late blight spanned four decades. He used the potato to investigate questions of what a species is, understand its ravages by a plant pathogen, and investigate ideas on clonal versus sexual reproduction on species fitness. Darwin's letters reveal his thoughts on free trade, population growth and food security during the Irish famine. Darwin was involved in the first research to find resistance to late blight and personally funded a breeding program in Ireland. Here, we discuss Darwin's studies on potato late blight and its relevance today in studies of global migrations of the pathogen and development of durable resistance.
Hesperomyces virescens is a fungal ectoparasite (Laboulbeniales) that infects adult ladybirds. Research has recently focused on this parasite due to the discovery of its prevalence on the globally invasive harlequin ladybird Harmonia axyridis and for its potential use in studies of co-evolution and pathogen spread. We collected adults from ten species of ladybirds in the Western Cape Province, South Africa, and screened for the presence of H. virescens. Infections with H. virescens were found in the samples of two species, H. axyridis and the native Cheilomenes propinqua. This marks the first record of H. virescens on H. axyridis from the African continent and the first record on Cheilomenes worldwide.
The harlequin ladybird, Harmonia axyridis (Pallas) (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae), is native to Asia but has been intentionally introduced to many countries as a biological control agent of pest insects. In numerous countries, however, it has been introduced unintentionally. The dramatic spread of H. axyridis within many countries has been met with considerable trepidation. It is a generalist top predator, able to thrive in many habitats and across wide climatic conditions. It poses a threat to biodiversity, particularly aphidophagous insects, through competition and predation, and in many countries adverse effects have been reported on other species, particularly coccinellids. However, the patterns are not consistent around the world and seem to be affected by many factors including landscape and climate. Research on H. axyridis has provided detailed insights into invasion biology from broad patterns and processes to approaches in surveillance and monitoring. An impressive number of studies on this alien species have provided mechanistic evidence alongside models explaining large-scale patterns and processes. The involvement of citizens in monitoring this species in a number of countries around the world is inspiring and has provided data on scales that would be otherwise unachievable. Harmonia axyridis has successfully been used as a model invasive alien species and has been the inspiration for global collaborations at various scales. There is considerable scope to expand the research and associated collaborations, particularly to increase the breadth of parallel studies conducted in the native and invaded regions. Indeed a qualitative comparison of biological traits across the native and invaded range suggests that there are differences which ultimately could influence the population dynamics of this invader. Here we provide an overview of the invasion history and ecology of H. axyridis globally with consideration of future research perspectives. We reflect broadly on the contributions of such research to our understanding of invasion biology while also informing policy and people.