MSOB: Using A ‘Fear Effect’ to Combat Aphid Populations

Brian German Industry, Making Sense of Biologicals

Aphid Populations - making sense of biologicals

Researchers are looking at a method of using the scent of lady beetles to control aphid populations. The concept is similar to releasing predatory insects as a form of biological control, except it would not require actual insects. Assistant Professor of Arthropod Ecology and Trophic Interaction in the Department of Entomology at Penn State University, Sara Hermann said the goal is to enhance the biological control of aphids in a unique way.

“When we typically think about predatory insects, we’re thinking about them consuming the prey or the pests that we want to be removed from our crop systems. But predators can also influence prey behavior and physiology by effectively scaring them,” said Hermann. “We want to see in the lab if we can harness that fear effect, or that response to a threat, to effectively disrupt the behaviors that these aphid pests do that harm crop plants.”

The research team has identified a multitude of compounds emitted by lady beetles but have been working with three methoxypyrazines in particular in lab tests. Aphid populations were shown to prefer host plants that did not contain the odor compounds from the lady beetles. Not only were behavioral changes seen, but the presence of the predatory odors also reduced the reproductive output of the aphids. The next generation of aphids also grew wings when their mother was exposed to the odor cues, which could spur dispersal of overall populations.

“If we could effectively limit the amount that are being produced and of the ones that are produced, get them to want to leave the field, then that could cause a net benefit,” Hermann noted. “We’re hoping to have this integrated approach that doesn’t just use maybe these repellents, these predatory insect odors, but uses all of the knowledge that we have from literature and other researchers to really have a great opportunity for these farmers.”

Listen to the full episode with Sara Hermann.

‘Making Sense of Biologicals’ is a series from AgNet West that dives into various topics with unbiased experts in the field of biologics to help the industry better understand the product category.

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