While conducting fieldwork in Puerto Rico’s central mountainous region in 2016, University of Michigan ecologists noticed tiny trails of bright orange snail excrement on the undersurface of coffee leaves afflicted with coffee leaf rust, the crop’s most economically important pest.
Intrigued, they conducted field observations and laboratory experiments over the next several years and showed that the widespread invasive snail Bradybaena similaris, commonly known as the Asian tramp snail and normally a plant-eater, had shifted its diet to consume the fungal pathogen that causes coffee leaf rust, which has ravaged coffee plantations across Latin America in recent years.
Now the U-M researchers are exploring the possibility that B. similaris and other snails and slugs, which are part of a large class of animals called gastropods, could be used as a biological control to help rein in coffee leaf rust. For more information, read the University of Michigan article.
The study was supported by grants from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.