A synthetic sex pheromone that confuses male Tuta absoluta moths so they can’t find females to mate with, Isonet-T, is offering new hope to commercial tomato growers for control of the devastating pest.
In the trials conducted in 2017 and funded by AHDB Horticulture, the mating disruption technique led to complete population control with no visible crop damage during the first 22 weeks when placed amongst plants on arrival in glasshouses.
Growers adapting the research for their own trials during the same period experienced exceptional results with the pest population growth stopping immediately.
Richard Bezemer, Cleveland Nurseries, who participated in the trials said, “We experienced severe Tuta absolutapopulations in 2016 for the first time. The trials have been so successful in our nursery that we now believe we are completely free of the pest and the cost of the pheromone off-set investment in other control products.”
Rob Jacobson, project researcher on behalf of the Tomato Growers Association Technical Committee, said: “Tutahas a remarkable ability to adapt to overcome our new control measures as seen with its development of resistance to chemical insecticides. It is clear that our industry must continue to strive to keep one step ahead of this very destructive pest”.
Gracie Emeny, knowledge exchange manager at AHDB Horticulture, said: “We thought Tuta absoluta was under control but it came back with a vengeance in the 2016 season after developing resistance to one of the key plant protection products used in integrated pest management programmes.
“This is a brilliant breakthrough for the industry but we would stress the need for careful use to make sure this control option stays available to growers for the long term.”
The synthetic sex pheromone, naturally produced by the female moths to attract males prior to copulation, is dispersed by Isonet-T dispensers to saturate the glasshouse atmosphere.
Researchers however warn that the technique could theoretically lead to female moths that are capable of producing eggs without mating.
Work is now underway at University of Exeter, funded by AHDB Horticulture, to study the impact of the technique on female moth reproduction.