Evaluation of candidate pheromone blends for mating disruption of the invasive swede midge (Contarinia nasturtii)

Elisabeth Ann Hodgdon, University of Vermont


Swede midge (Contarinia nasturtii, Diptera: Cecidomyiidae) is a small invasive fly that is currently threatening Brassica vegetable and oilseed production in the Northeastern U.S. and Canada. Larvae feed on plant meristems, resulting in deformed leaves, stems, and heads. Extremely low damage thresholds for heading Brassica vegetables, multiple overlapping generations, and lack of effective organic insecticide options present serious challenges for managing this pest. Pheromone mating disruption (PMD), which involves confusing male insects with unnaturally large doses of sex pheromones, is particularly promising for swede midge management because it prevents mating and subsequent oviposition. One major challenge to PMD for swede midge management is that the chiral female pheromone blend, a 1:2:0.02 blend of (2S, 9S)-diacetoxyundecane, (2S, 10S)-diacetoxyundecane and (S)-2-acetoxyundecane, is expensive to synthesize due to the structural complexity of the compounds. Here, we explored three ways to reduce the cost of swede midge PMD: the use of lower-cost racemic pheromones containing all possible stereoisomers, single-component blends, and the possibility of using timed pheromone dispensers by testing for diel patterns of midge reproductive behavior.

Although we found that males were not attracted to blends containing the racemic stereoisomers of the main pheromone component, (2S, 10S)-diacetoxyundecane, racemic blends functioned equally as well as chiral blends in confusing males and altering female behavior in PMD systems. We observed 95% and 87% reductions in males caught in monitoring traps in three-component chiral and racemic PMD plots of broccoli, respectively. In addition to confusing males, we also found that females altered their reproductive behavior in response to both chiral and racemic pheromones. Females released pheromones more frequently when exposed to three-component chiral and racemic blends, and were less likely to mate afterward. Single-pheromone treatments containing either chiral or racemic 2,10-diacetoxyundecane neither confused males nor influenced female behavior.

We identified a total of eight hours during the day and night when midges do not exhibit mate-seeking behavior, during which programmable PMD dispensers could be turned off to save pheromone inputs. We found that up to 81% of females released pheromones to attract males for mating in the early morning shortly after dawn. Most females emerged in the morning as well, releasing pheromones soon after eclosing. Because midges are receptive to mates shortly after emergence, they may mate at their emergence site.

Overall, we found relatively high levels of crop damage in our pheromone-treated plots, likely due to the migration of mated females into our plots. If midges mate at emergence sites, rotation of Brassica vegetable crops may result in overwintered midges emerging in fields where host plants are not currently grown. Further research is needed to determine where midges mate in order to determine where to install PMD dispensers.