April 13 (UPI) -- According to a new study, at least nine beetle species can carry the fungus responsible for laurel wilt, a disease threatening avocado trees in South Florida.
When researchers first began studying the spread of laurel wilt, they blamed the redbay ambrosia beetle. But further investigation suggested several more beetle species were transmitting the disease.
In a paper published this week in the Journal of Economic Entomology, scientists reported three new beetle species that carry the laurel wilt pathogen, bringing the total to nine.
There could be still more species that carry the avocado-killing fungus, scientists warned.
"Several beetles other than redbay ambrosia beetle carry the pathogen," Randy Ploetz, a plant pathology professor at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said in a news release. "However, it will be important to determine their roles in the spread of this disease. Again, that is not easy. But the results suggest that focusing on the redbay ambrosia beetle regarding the avocado situation may not be a good idea."
Researchers hope their ongoing research will identify which beetle vectors play largest role in spreading the pathogen and infecting avocado trees.
As of now, scientists don't have a best practices for preventing laurel wilt. But they now know, they must look beyond the redbay ambrosia beetle.