Science - October 4, 2010

Heijerman: strange that Dicke knows nothing about the weevils

The report on natuurbericht.nl that exotic weevil populations are reaching plague proportions in the Netherlands is true. 'It is neither a scoop nor a hoax', says Theodoor Heijerman.

Heijerman is a researcher at Biosystematics at Wageningen University and coordinates the weevil workgroup of the European Invertebrate Survey - Netherlands. One of his activities is to collect distribution data on weevils in the Netherlands. He receives the data from volunteers including entomologist Silvia Hellingman.

Breeders
There has been a steady influx of exotic weevil species into the Netherlands in the last ten years, says Heijerman. They arrived on plant material from Southern European nurseries, and some of the species have spread tremendously in their first few years, he says. Heijerman and Silvia Hellingman have published several academic articles about this, including in the Dutch journal Entomologische Berichten. 'Marcel Dicke could have read that', says Heijerman.
He is referring to Marcel Dicke's response to the item on the television news about Wageningen entomologists sounding the alarm about exotic weevils. Dicke said: 'We do not have weevil problems in the Netherlands on the scale the NOS news suggested.' But Heijerman points out the existence of a number of articles that describe the arrival and rapid proliferation of exotic weevils.

Frustration
He knows Silvia Hellingman, the author of the report on natuurbericht.nl, well. 'This does not do justice to Hellingman. She is really engaged with the problem, and she is helping people for whom the weevils are a nuisance.' Those people are worried about the plants in their garden, and for a long time their town councils turned a deaf ear to their concerns. 'There is frustration among them too; you can see that from the letters on the Resource website. Silvia was the only person who was listening and who came by to see which weevils it was all about, and what she could do about it.'
The weevils are a growing problem, Heijerman claims. 'They are exotic species and they don't belong here. They eat away at the plants in your garden. I don't mind that much, because I like weevils. But people who have bought their plants from a garden centre find they are being damaged by the weevils.'

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