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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Programs


Insect Pest Management/Biological Control/Genetic Research Unit (click on Research Staff to learn more)

Biological Control

Cotton fields in the western U.S. harbor a large diversity of arthropod predators and parasitoids that have the potential to contribute significantly to pest population suppression. At the same time, chemical control remains an important cotton production input to growers. The focus of research at the Western Cotton Research Laboratory is to identify important natural enemies attacking cotton pests in the western U.S., study their biology and ecology, develop methods for measuring their impact on pest populations, study their susceptibility to new and conventional insecticides, and explore conservation and augmentation strategies for integrating them into existing and developing pest management programs.

Insect Biology and Ecology

A basic understanding of the biology and ecology of cotton insect pests, emerging exotic pests, and their natural enemies is critical to the development of robust pest management strategies. Fundamental knowledge of insect life processes and interactions with their hosts often provides clues to new and novel approaches to pest population regulation or enhancement of natural enemy activity. A broad array of topics is currently being investigated by scientists of the Western Cotton Research Laboratory from basic studies of insect feeding behavior and nutrition, to examination of pest and natural enemy dispersal, and quantitative descriptions of pest population dynamics. Laboratory scientists are also involved in host plant-natural enemy-insect pest interactions and semiochemical, visual, tactile and other methods of inter and intra-species communication. Knowledge gained here will facilitate the development of novel control tactics.


Integrated pest management (IPM) is the melding of tactics as strategic elements of an overall management plan that takes into consideration economic, social and environment interests. Research at the Western Cotton Research Laboratory explores a broad array of tactics for insect management and has been instrumental in developing and implementing IPM programs for sweetpotato whitefly and pink bollworm in the western U.S. cotton production system. These approaches focus on the fundamentals of IPM including pest and natural enemy sampling, integration of biological and chemical control tactics, and exploration of abiotic and biotic factors that affect crop production and insect population development. These elements are being developed and evaluated for implementation in areawide, multiple-crop agriculture systems in the southwest.

Chemical Control and IRM

Insecticides remain the dominant tactic for pest control in cotton throughout the world. However, recent advances have lead to the introduction of a large array of new chemistries, many of which have more limited spectrums of activity and are more compatible with other pest management tactics such as biological control. Research at the Western Cotton Research Laboratory has been instrumental in testing the efficacy of new and developing products and in evaluating selectivity to natural enemies. Other aspects of the research include evaluation and use of action thresholds, development of chemistry rotations to minimize insecticide resistance, and evaluation of additive antagonistic or synergistic compounds to chemical mixtures on pests and natural enemies.

Plant Physiology/Genetics& Host Plant Resistance Research Unit (Visit Website)

Plant Genetics

The genetic potential of crop plant cultivars is often not attained because of limitations due to biotic and abiotic stresses. Although abiotic stresses, particularly drought, account for much more crop loss than biotic stresses such as insects, weeds, and diseases, there are significant monetary and environmental costs associated with management of the biotic stresses. The Western Cotton Research Laboratory has a long history of developing cotton germplasm with improved tolerance to abiotic and biotic stress. The development of Pima (Gossypium barbadense) cotton as a U.S. commodity was brought to fruition at this laboratory.

Plant Physiology and Biochemistry

Research within the Cotton Physiology, Genetics & Plant-Insect Interactions Research Unit is conducted by scientists & technicians trained in various sub-disciplines of Biology including Plant Physiology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Genetics.  Research focuses on three major areas, cotton physiology & biochemistry, cotton genetics and the physiology of cotton insect pests.  The areas are interrelated, all having as a common denominator, the improvement of cotton yield in the arid environment of the desert southwest.  The main mission of Plant Physiology and Biochemistry Program Area is to understand and improve the biochemical mechanisms that limit the stress tolerance and productivity of cotton.

Last Modified: 10/26/2005
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