Better understanding of insects will lead to better traps for glasshouse crops

Traps for catching insect pests in greenhouses and in the field "are not as effective as they should be", due to the way they see colours, patterns and objects, according to researchers.

The European tarnished plant bug - Image: BJ Schoenemakers (CC 1.0)
The European tarnished plant bug - Image: BJ Schoenemakers (CC 1.0)

"There is currently very little fundamental research being conducted into the effectiveness of trap systems," according to Wageningen University & Research (WUR) entomologist Rob van Tol.

"What we do know mainly stems from comparative research: we see that a given system captures more bugs than another due to different circumstances. But if we look at the effectiveness, usually only 10 to 15% or even fewer of the insects present actually land in a trap.

"Many insects do get lured to the trap with scents, but change course at the last minute. This can be compared to a runway without proper markings, where the pilot cannot perceive depth and takes off again."

The international research project "Are more visible traps more effective?" will attempt to answer the question of how insects detect objects. Van Tol explains: "An insect eye is composed of many separate tiny lenses, each of which has its own limited scope. We want to assess how bugs see and what they see.

"Next we can look at how they use their visual ability to orient themselves and decide whether or not to land on an object. If we know how an insect perceives differences as it approaches an object, we can develop models for effective trap systems."

The research is focussing on two damaging crop pests, the European tarnished plant bug (Lygus rugulipennis), a serious pest of strawberries in particular, and Western flower thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis), a pest of a wide range of edible and ornamental crops.

"Better traps on the market would ensure better monitoring but also more insects will get contaminated with insecticidal fungi in a so-called Lure & Infect strategy," Van Tol added.

"We can also simply trap insects en masse and render them harmless, effectively culling them and leaving much smaller numbers to affect the crop. This means far fewer chemicals would be needed to combat the pests."

WUR of the Netherlands is partnering with New Zealand's Lincoln University and Lund University, Sweden, on the project, with industry body LTO Glaskracht and biocontrols supplier Koppert among co-financiers.

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