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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Maricopa, Arizona » U.S. Arid Land Agricultural Research Center » Pest Management and Biocontrol Research » Research » Research Project #438517

Research Project: Sustainable Pest Management for Arid-Land Agroecosystems

Location: Pest Management and Biocontrol Research

Project Number: 2020-22620-023-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Jul 1, 2020
End Date: Jun 30, 2025

Objective 1: Investigate the behavior, biology, demography and ecology of the major pests, and their natural enemies, of cotton and other western U.S. crops, with emphasis on pest movement, feeding, ecology, and conservation of natural enemies. Sub-objective 1A: Develop biological control-informed thresholds for L. hesperus in cotton (Naranjo, Vacant Entomologist) Sub-objective 1B: Characterize the demographics and dispersal patterns of B. tabaci and L. hesperus, natural enemies, and pollinators in a cotton field embedded with push and pull companion plants (Fabrick, Hagler, Vacant Entomologist) Sub-objective 1C: Identify arthropod demography and life stage-specific predation on L. hesperus inhabiting desert-adapted cotton breeding lines (Hagler, Vacant Entomologist) Sub-objective 1D: Test the efficacy on CSB of insecticides typically used in cotton pest management systems. (Brent, Vacant Entomologist) [NP304, C3, PS3A, 3B, and 3C] Objective 2: Examine non-target effects of new GE crops and determine efficacy and non-target effects of insecticidal seed treatments. Sub-objective 2A: Assess effects of Lygus-active Bt cotton on the pests L. hesperus and B. tabaci, and on the natural enemy community and its biological control function (Naranjo, Vacant Entomologist) Sub-objective 2B: Determine the contribution of F. occidentalis on B. tabaci control and the impact of insecticidal seed treatments on the natural enemy community associated with B. tabaci and L. hesperus in cotton (Naranjo, Vacant Entomologist) Objective 3: Investigate the physiology, biochemistry, and molecular biology of major pests of cotton and other arid land crops to develop new and improve existing management approaches such as those based on gene silencing or editing. Sub-objective 3A: Evaluate oral RNAi in L. hesperus (Brent, Fabrick, Hull) Sub-objective 3B: Identify and functionally characterize sex determination genes in L. hesperus (Brent, Fabrick, Hull) Sub-objective 3C: Develop and use CRISPR/Cas gene editing to create gene knockouts in L. hesperus (Brent, Fabrick, Hull) Sub-objective 3D: Identify Bt resistance mechanisms and fitness costs in the lepidopteran cotton pests, Pectinophora gossypiella and Helicoverpa zea (Fabrick, Hull, Naranjo) Sub-objective 3E: Develop tools for the genetic-based manipulation of CSB development for future use in precision-guided biorational pest management. [NP304, C3, PS3A, 3B, and 3C]

Objective 1: Biological control-informed thresholds, which determine pesticide treatment using the density of pests and their predators, will be developed for L. hesperus in cotton using experimental field research and data mining. Densities of L. hesperus and natural enemy communities will be manipulated and monitored to identify key predators of L. hesperus. Predictions of ratios that enable biological control will be tested and compared to conventional threshold models. Companion plantings of vernonia and marigold will be tested, with lab and field approaches, for their efficacy in protecting cotton by drawing pests away from the crop and towards areas with high predator density. Protein marking will be used to track movement and predator feeding patterns on all life stages, and to determine whether the impact of drought-tolerant cotton isolines on pest colonization and predator success. Objective 2: Cotton engineered to express the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin selective for L. hesperus will be tested for non-target effects on natural enemies. Field studies will compare Bt and non-Bt cottons with and without additional insecticides. Sweep net sampling and sticky cards will measure the abundance of common predators of L. hesperus and B. tabaci. Biological control function will be assessed using established thresholds for B. tabaci and direct measures of predation. The impact of insecticidal seed treatments on the natural enemies of B. tabaci and L. hesperus in cotton will be assessed using field-based inclusion cage studies with young cotton plants containing whitefly eggs exposed to adult and immature thrips. To assess early-season and season-long efficacy and non-target impacts of cotton seed-treatments, field studies will compare population densities of B. tabaci, thrips, and other arthropods exposed to cotton with and with seed treatment. Objective 3: The efficacy of oral RNAi will be assessed in L. hesperus by feeding or injecting dsRNA for genes involved in ovary function. To determine if digestive tract nucleases destroy dsRNA before it can be effective, luminal contents and gut homogenates will be assessed for enzymatic activity. To identify genes involved in dsRNA uptake from the gut, homologs of endocytotic pathway genes will be identified then silenced by RNAi to determine function. The role of parental RNAi will be tested by injecting adult L. hesperus females with dsRNA targeting the eye pigmentation genes and examining embryo eye color. Sex determination gene homologs in L. hesperus will be identified, their expression measured, and function determined by RNAi. CRISPR/Cas gene driver methods will be optimized for L. hesperus, using injections and electroporation to modify embryos. Bt toxin resistance mechanisms in pink bollworm and corn earworm relying on mutations in the ABC transporter and midgut cadherin genes will be examined by toxicity screening and cellular localization. Determination of whether a fitness tradeoff occurs in the corn earworm with Bt toxin resistance will be made in susceptible and resistant strains fed toxic and non-toxic diets by comparing life history traits and flight performance.