Air Potato Leaf Beetle Project Update – December 2017

A successful new program is connecting Floridians managing invasive air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera) with a biological control agent: the air potato leaf beetle (Lilioceris cheni). Researchers with the USDA ARS Invasive Plant Research Laboratory in Fort Lauderdale demonstrated that L. cheni is a viable biological control.

Air Potato Leaf Beetle (Photo Credits: K. Gioeli)

About Air Potato
Air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera) is a nonnative vining plant found in natural areas throughout Florida. It is an invasive plant that is difficult to manage and is listed as a noxious weed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (USDA NRCS 2015). While this vine is native to tropical Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and northern Australia, genetic studies strongly suggest that the air potato in Florida originated from Asia (Croxton et al 2011). Its vines grow over and cover desirable vegetation in a variety of habitats including pine flatwoods and hardwood hammocks (Overholt et al 2008). It can be identified in part by its “potato-like” aerial tubers called bulbils.

A team of scientists with UF/IFAS, USDA-ARS and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Division of Plant Industry partnered to conduct research on L. cheni. In addition to the research team, an extension agent with the UF/IFAS Extension St Lucie County was invited to develop an Extension program to bring focus to outreach efforts for this biological control agent. As a result, outreach efforts produced research-based information and targeted project resources to meet program clientele needs. As of August 2017, there have been 360,052 visitors using content on the air potato biological control project website. YouTube videos, brochures, posters and other Extension deliverables were developed. This Extension program has resulted in a high level of satisfaction with 95% (196/207) of surveyed program participants expressing their level of satisfaction to others. Between June 2016 – August 2017, 81,528 adult insects were released by the UF/IFAS team on 840 sites to manage invasive air potato.

Information about the air potato biological control extension program can be found online at

Project Partners
Carey Minteer Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
2199 South Rock Road
Fort Pierce, FL 34945

*Min Rayamajhi
USDA-ARS, Invasive Plant Laboratory
3225 College Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33314
Phone: 954-475-6552

Christopher Kerr
Biological Scientist IV
FDACS Division of Plant Industry
1911 SW 34th Street
Gainesville, FL 32608
Phone: 352-395-4746

*Ken Gioeli
UF/IFAS St Lucie Co Extension
8400 Picos Road, Ste 101
Fort Pierce, FL 34945

Project Team – Past Participants
*William Overholt
Professor Emeritus
UF/IFAS Indian River REC

*Eric Rohrig
FDACS Division of Plant Industry
*indicates founding project member.

Literature Cited
Croxton, M., M. Andreu, D. Williams, W. Overholt, and J. Smith. 2011. Source and diversity of air-potato (Dioscorea bulbifera) in Florida. Invasive Plant Science and Management 4: 22-30.

Gioeli, K., Overholt, W., Rayamajhi, and M., Rohrig, E. 2014. Air Potato Biological Control Extension Needs Assessment. UF/IFAS. Fort Pierce, FL

Gioeli, K., Overholt, W., Rayamajhi, M., Rohrig, E., Hibbard, K., Diaz, R., and Manrique, V. 2015. Air Potato Biological Control Website. [Online]

USDA, NRCS. 2015. The PLANTS Database (, Retrieved March 24, 2015). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.


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Posted: August 30, 2017

Category: Agriculture
Tags: #UFBugs, Invasive

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