Wasp that controls tomato-pest Tuta absoluta is discovered by Dutch scientists

Natural enemies to the tomato leaf miner (Tuta absoluta) - a pest that over the past few years has made its way from the Mediterranean into at least a dozen British glasshouses - have been discovered by scientists in Holland.

Scientists from Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture discovered natural enemies of the pest in the Netherlands' Kinderdijk nature reserve, which is home to a wide variety of insects.

Tuta absoluta was used as bait for the indigenous fauna as tomato plants carrying the insect's eggs were brought into the reserve. Plants that had many caterpillars on them were shown to work as a magnet for a variety of predators - including a plant bug that attacks the larvae and thrives well on tomatoes and parasitic wasps belonging to the family Eulophidae.

A Wageningen UR representative said: "One of these wasps successfully parasitised and produced offspring. This parasitic wasp is being cultured for identification and further research. If it is shown to be suitable, we will start looking for a related but harmless moth for the production of the parasitic wasps and will then develop an effective method to introduce them into the crop."

This means the salad industry could in future have a form of biological control option for the pest, which hails from South America and is also known as the South American tomato moth.

The Dutch scientists discovered the pests as part of a research project commissioned by the Dutch fresh produce industry and the country's Product Board for Horticulture.

Since 2007, the insect has been a serious problem for tomato growers in Spain and Morocco. In the UK, growers are taking steps to control the pest - the most recent outbreak of which occurred last month at a site in Worcestershire.

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