Locally known as Mora, the invasive blackberry (Rubus niveus) was introduced to the Galapagos in 1968. Currently it is considered one of the worst weeds in the islands. Dense spiny thickets grow up to 3 meters tall and cover over 30,000 ha, affecting farmland and preventing the unique highland forest dominated by an endemic daisy tree from regenerating. The fast growth and large seed bank make Mora very hard to control, leading to heavy and regular use of herbicides or even abandonment of farmland.
A partnership between the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and CAB International (www.cabi.org) aims to identify a suitable biological control agent for Mora, which if successful could offer more effective control of this species. This will allow for the recovery of native vegetation and for farmers to reclaim agricultural land for cultivation.
At present CABI scientists are searching for potential biocontrol agents from the native range of the blackberry (India to China*). Once identified a rigorous multi-year testing process must be carried out. This will ensure that the biocontrol agent poses no threat to native, non-target species, or related cultivated species like the commercial Andean raspberry (Rubus glaucus) or ornamental roses both grown on mainland Ecuador.
*This initial work has been funded by the FEIG (Fondo para el control de especies invasoras de Galapagos), a trust fund of the Government of Ecuador.