The mission of the Insect Behavior and Biocontrol Research Unit is to characterize, describe, and analyze the behavior and behavioral genetics of pest and beneficial insects, and to develop tactics for managing lepidopterous insects, fruit flies, and other pests utilizing semio chemical /acoustic based technology, natural enemies, and autocidal strains derived from molecular manipulations.
Our ultimate objective is to provide alternative methods to conventional pesticides for control of crop, vegetable and tree fruit insect pests. Research focuses on:
- Semio chemicals, acoustic, and other signals that mediate reproduction, feeding, and host-finding; development of artificial rearing methods for parasitoids and predators
- Identification of behavioral traits of pest and beneficial insects that may be amenable to biological, cultural and/or genetic manipulation
- Development of methods to genetically transform both pests and natural enemies.
Principles of behavior and genetics are applied for:
- Development of control tactics useful in sterile insect/autocidal strain release programs
- Introduction and augmentation of natural enemies
- Habitat manipulation to preserve, manipulate, and increase populations of natural enemies
- Attraction and killing technologies to suppress pest populations
- Integration of these biological based tactics into local and area wide pest management
Development of Biologically Based Mechanisms of Control of Insect Pests of Fruit, Vegetables and Field Crops:
- Adult courtship and mating behaviors of the invasive cactus moth were described, and field cage tests found the Sterile Insect Technique to be a potentially efficacious tactic for control
- The spined soldier bug, a common predator in agroecosystems, was found to invest nutrients in egg production throughout its lifetime, and as a consequence its history of feeding on pest insects (i.e., impact as a biological control agent) can be estimated from its physiological state
- Field and laboratory experiments have shown that a thrips species not previously recognized as a disease vector is able to acquire Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus, and may now have to be monitored as part of the integrated pest management of important row crops
Biologically Based Technologies for Management of Crop Pests in Local and Area wide Programs:
- A new "suicide" vector system for insect gene transfer was created that allows stabilization of the vector subsequent to genomic integration, thus removing one of the greatest ecological risks to release of transgenic insects
- Fall army worm strains were found to differ in their temporal distribution in Florida overwintering habitats; specifically the highly pestiferous "corn strain" is abundant only in spring prior to migration making it amenable to area wide suppression
- Novel acoustic and microwave radar devices were found to detect hidden insect infestations in grains, thus providing higher levels of sampling sensitivity and accuracy
Biocontrol through Artificial Rearing of Natural Enemies and Manipulation of Host Plant Resistance:
- It was demonstrated that an immunological ELISA based yolk protein assay can determine the reproductive fitness of predators shipped from commercial insectaries, thus facilitating higher levels of quality control.
Paul Shirk, Research Leader