Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Plant and Soil Science

First Advisor

Yolanda H. Chen

Second Advisor

Alison K. Brody


Swede midge, Contarinia nasturtii Kieffer (Diptera: Cecidomyiidae), is an invasive pest causing marketable losses on Brassica crops in the Northeastern United States and throughout southern Canada. Heading brassicas, like cauliflower and broccoli, are particularly susceptible because larvae feed concealed inside meristematic tissues of the plant, where head formation occurs. Our work details the development of a sustainable, affordable pest management tactic for swede midge – plant derived repellents.

First, it was necessary to establish both a damage and marketability threshold for swede midge, so we developed a technique to manipulate larval density of swede midge on cauliflower, We asked: (1) What is the swede midge damage threshold? (2) How many swede midge larvae can render cauliflower crowns unmarketable? and (3) Does the age of cauliflower at infestation influence the severity of damage? We found that even a single larva causes mild twisting and scarring rendering cauliflower unmarketable 52% of the time, with more larvae causing more severe damage and additional losses, regardless of cauliflower age at infestation. Repellency is an important management approach to consider for swede midge.

Since the host range of specialist insects appears constrained by plant phylogeny, we hypothesized that odors from less phylogenetically related plants would be more repellent to swede midge. To test our hypothesis, we performed no-choice and choice biological assays, asking: (1) How do essential oils from different plant species influence midge densities on broccoli? (2) What is the relationship between phylogenetic distance of non-host odors and larval densities on broccoli? Biological assays identified multiple essential oils that reduced larval densities, and phylogenetic analyses showed that less related plants were more effective.

In addition to the biological assays, we tested 15 essential oils for their ability to repel gravid females from broccoli tissue in y-tube olfactometer assays. While most of the essential oils reduced the frequency at which females chose host plant meristems, wintergreen, thyme, lemongrass, eucalyptus lemon, garlic, cinnamon, and star anise were most effective. Additionally, we used chemical fingerprints (physical/chemical properties) from PubChem to compare the essential oil volatile compounds and develop an index for their similarity. We found that physicochemical similarity was predictive of repellency.

Finally, for repellency to be an effective, long-term strategy, it was important to consider how and whether the repellent response of midges changes over time or previous experience. In our final chapter, we performed electroantennography trials testing how previous experience with garlic or eucalyptus lemon odor for one or 10 s influences the neurophysiological response of swede midge to host (broccoli) or non-host (garlic or eucalyptus lemon) odors. We asked: (1) Does previous experience with garlic or eucalyptus lemon influence the physiological response of swede midge to host or non-host odors? (2) Does the time of previous exposure to non-host odors influence their physiological response to host or non-host odors? Our findings show that swede midge, after 10 s of exposure to either repellent, was more responsive to repellents than host compounds, suggesting that the effectiveness of repellents will not diminish over time.



Number of Pages

426 p.