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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Gainesville, Florida » Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology » Insect Behavior and Biocontrol Research » Research » Research Project #439296

Research Project: Managing Invasive Weeds and Insect Pests Using Biologically-Based Methods

Location: Insect Behavior and Biocontrol Research

Project Number: 6036-22000-033-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Oct 13, 2020
End Date: Oct 12, 2025

1. Develop strategies for optimal use of biological control agents against invasive weeds such as air potato and Chinese tallow tree based on research that improves our understanding of factors that determine weed abundance, including biotic and abiotic elements and climatic region. 1.A. Determine the role of native natural enemies attacking a biological control agent (Caloptilia triadicae) in its introduced range. 1.B. Determine presence and importance of air potato leaf beetle chemical communication pathways to improve air potato biological control. 2. Develop and refine biologically-based control strategies for invasive insects such as the Argentine cactus moth, Harrisia cactus mealybug, and Old World bollworm, focusing on the use of parasitoids and disrupting pheromone cues. 2.A. Determine release factors that increase successful establishment of the parasitoid Apanteles opuntiarum against the Argentine cactus moth. 2.B. Determine the effectiveness of released control agents Anagyrus cachamai and/or A. lapachosus to control the Harrisia cactus mealybug (HCM) in Puerto Rico. 2.C. Determine the effectiveness of disrupting pheromone communication between gregarious cactus moth larvae as a sustainable management tactic for this pest in commercial cactus production areas. 2.D. Determine whether parasitoids that attack native Helicoverpa zea will also be successful against the potentially invasive Helicoverpa armigera. 3. Develop sustainable management strategies such as “push-pull” technology for controlling invasive whiteflies in vegetable production using naturally repellent plants, plant chemicals, trap plants, and green leaf volatiles together with natural enemy refuge plants. 3.A. Identify companion plants, products and chemical compounds that a) repel whiteflies and determine their efficacy in limiting pest dispersal into crops (“push” factors), as well as b) identify plants and products capable of attracting whiteflies into trap crops to facilitate control (“pull” factors). 3.B. Evaluate companion or refuge plants that “attract and reward” important whitefly predators. 3.C. Develop an integrated cropping system combining “push-pull” crops or plant products with natural enemy refuges for sustainable biologically-based control of whiteflies.

Invasive insect pests and weeds are among the most serious problems facing agricultural and natural ecosystems throughout the United States. This project plan describes research to improve implementation of biologically based tactics for non-pesticide management of insect pests and weeds through a better understanding of the pest species’ biology and interactions with host plants and natural enemies, as well as development of optimized approaches, technologies and strategies. One area of research will address improvement of techniques to enhance release success, establishment and impact of biological control insect species against invasive weed species such as the air potato and Chinese tallow tree. Another area of research focuses on the development of an integrated cropping system for control of whiteflies in vegetable crop systems using ‘push’ components consisting of naturally repellent plants or plant compounds, in conjunction with ‘pull’ components that consist of trap crops, complemented by refuge plants to attract and reward natural enemies. Finally, the use of host specific parasitoids for the protection of native cacti from the invasive Argentine cactus moth and the Harrisia cactus mealybug, and protection of crops from the potentially invasive Old World bollworm, will be studied. Therefore, the plan is expected to serve several stakeholders and customers, including researchers at land grant institutions, government and non-governmental organizations, growers, ranchers and commodity groups, and small-scale farmers and organic producers. The outcomes of this research project will improve the sustainability of agricultural production, reduce reliance on pesticides and reduce the environmental degradation caused by invasive pest species.