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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Alarm Pheromone Knocks Off Russian Wheat Aphids
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Alarm Pheromone Knocks Off Russian Wheat Aphids

The Russian wheat aphid is a major pest of winter wheat and barley in the United States and worldwide. First identified in 1986 in the United States, the green, 1/16-inch-long Diuaphis noxia had cost U.S. growers $1 billion by 1993.

Last year, cumulative yield losses topped 106 million bushels and infestation of small-grains crops totaled over 20 percent throughout the pest's North American range—16 states and 2 Canadian provinces.

Searching for ways to outwit the pest and keep it from spreading, John D. Vandenberg, of the U.S. Plant, Soil, and Nutrition Laboratory in Ithaca, New York, and colleagues Paresh A. Shah and John A. Pickett from the Institute for Arable Crops Research in Harpenden, England, made some new discoveries.

The team found that the Russian wheat aphid may produce the alarm pheromone (E)-ß-farnesene and showed that the pest responds to it.

Alarm pheromones are produced by some aphids in response to a disturbance. Their effect is to stimulate movement by nearby aphids—a response that may help the pests avoid predators.

"(E)-ß-farnesene is a common alarm pheromone among aphids," Vandenberg says. "They release it from their rear abdomen, where it is secreted when they are attacked by arthropods. A forced behavior, such as dropping off the host plant, may help aphids avoid enemies."

Vandenberg and colleagues studied the Russian wheat aphid's response to a synthetic form of the green peach aphid's alarm pheromone.

Vandenberg also evaluated the pheromone's effectiveness in combinations with an aphid-infecting fungus, Paecilomyces fumosoroseus, in hopes that alarmed on-the-move aphids would be more likely to become infected.

In a series of lab tests, the researchers found that aphids responded to the alarm pheromone by removing their feeding tubes, or stylets, from barley leaves and crawling out of test areas. They left even more quickly when the pheromone concentration increased.

But combinations of (E)-ß-farnesene and the aphid-infecting fungus did not enhance aphid mortality.

Vandenberg says, "Further studies are needed to determine whether the pest actively secretes alarm pheromones in response to natural disturbances. Studies are also needed to explore the possible synergy between pheromone applications and other control agents."—By Hank Becker, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.

John D. Vandenberg is with the USDA-ARS U.S. Plant, Soil, and Nutrition Laboratory, Tower Road, Ithaca, NY 14853; phone (607) 255-2456, fax (607) 255-1132.

"Alarm Pheromone Knocks Off Russian Wheat Aphids" was published in the July 2000 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Last Modified: 3/17/2014
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