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Volatile Organic Compounds as Insect Repellents and Plant Elicitors: an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Strategy for Glasshouse Whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum)

Lookup NU author(s): niall Conboy, Dr Thomas McDanielORCiD, Dr Dave George, Dr Martin EdwardsORCiD, Paul Donohoe, Professor Angharad MR GatehouseORCiD, Dr Colin Tosh



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


The glasshouse whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum Westwood) is a polyphagous arthropod pest that is of particular detriment to glasshouse grown tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) across temperate regions of the world. Control of whiteflies with synthetic pesticides has resulted in the evolution of resistant genotypes and a reduction in natural enemies, thus highlighting the need for environmentally sound control strategies. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) offer an environmentally benign alternative to synthetic chemical sprays and this study explored the use of VOCs as insect repellents and plant defence elicitors to control whiteflies on tomato in a commercial glasshouse setting. Limonene in the form of a volatile dispenser system was found to successfully repel whitefly from the target crop and increased fruit yield by 32% during a heavy whitefly infestation. Analysis of tomato herbivore induced plant volatiles (HIPVs) led us to select methyl salicylate (MeSA) as the plant elicitor and application of MeSA to un-infested tomato plants was found to successfully reduce whitefly population development and increase yield by 11%, although this difference was marginally statistically significant. Combination of these two methods was also effective but whitefly abundance in combined plots was similar to the standalone limonene treatment across the course of the experiment. All of the VOC based control methods we used had a negative impact on whitefly performance, with more pronounced effects during the first few weeks of infestation. In subsequent laboratory experiments, we found elevated peroxidase (POD) activity and a significant increase in TPX1 and PR1 transcripts in MeSA treated plants. This led us to deduce that MeSA immediately induced plant defences, rather than priming them. We did however see evidence for residual priming, as plants treated with MeSA and infested with whiteflies produced significantly higher levels of POD activity than whitefly infestation alone. Despite the fact that our treatments failed to synergise, our methods can be optimised further, and the effectiveness of the standalone treatments is promising for future studies. In particular, our repellent limonene dispensers were extremely effective at deterring whiteflies and offer a low economic cost and easy to implement whitefly control option. The methods we have used here could be incorporated into current integrated pest management (IPM) systems, a sustainable approach to pest control which will be central to our efforts to manage whitefly populations under glass in the future.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Conboy N, McDaniel T, George D, Ormerod A, Edwards M, Donohoe P, Gatehouse A, Tosh C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Chemical Ecology

Year: 2020

Volume: 46

Pages: 1090-1104

Print publication date: 01/12/2020

Online publication date: 27/10/2020

Acceptance date: 14/10/2020

Date deposited: 12/11/2020

ISSN (print): 0098-0331

ISSN (electronic): 1573-1561

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s10886-020-01229-8


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