In nature, chemical cues produced by plants or animals can elicit behavioral or physiological responses in other organisms. Most insects use olfactory cues to facilitate important behaviors such as mating, oviposition and foraging for resources. These compounds called semiochemicals can mediate interactions either between individuals of the same species (pheromones), or across varied biological entities (allelochemicals). A better understanding of the chemical ecology of insects allows the use of pheromones and/or allelochemicals as tools for pest management leading to a reduction in the use of insecticides and affording a high degree of specificity.
The chemical ecology line deals with different aspects related to new insect pheromones, ranging from their structural characterization, synthesis of pheromones and analogues, and their attractant activity in the laboratory by electrophysiology techniques and behavioral bioassays and in the field, with the final aim to develop new alternative and environmentally-friendly methods of pest control. Specific sublines under study are:
- Semiochemical approaches to control the tomato leafminer Tuta absoluta. The studies of this important economic pest are directed in two directions:
A. Study of physiological and behavioral parameters that affect pheromone production as the presence of the host plant, physiological state and age, between others.
B. The potential of natural plant essential oils for insect pest control. Some essential oils tested displayed a significant repellency on larvae towards food source, and interrupted the pheromone-based attraction on males.
- Chemical communication in the oak pest Coroebus undatus.
The flathead oak borer C. undatus is one of the primary pests of the cork oak in the Mediterranean region causing great economic losses to the cork industry. We are developing an efficient method for trapping this pest using visual and chemical cues.
A) Adult and B) larvae and galleries on Quercus suber of C. undatus. C) Purple coloured trap to capture adults.
Chemical Communication in the Moroccan locust, Dociostaurus maroccanus a polyphagous pest of crops, particularly in Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. We have identified a candidate sex pheromone component of this polyphagous pest of crops as the (Z/E)-phytal. Other compounds are being investigated as putative pheromones.
Adult and electrophysiological activity of the four diastereomers of (E)-phytal
Development of novel attractants for fruit flies and Western conifer seed bug control
In a collaborative project with SEDQ (Sociedad Española de Desarrollos Químicos, S.L) we are developing a species-specific lure for controlling four relevant insect pests. The first research line comprises three fruit flies species: (A) the spotted-wing drosophila Drosophila suzukii, (B) the olive fruit fly Bactrocera oleae and (C) the cherry fruit fly Rhagoletis cerasi. The development of these new attractants is highly desirable for an optimal and eco-friendly control of these pests, as they could overcome many of the drawbacks of the traditional baits, such as low efficacy, non-specificity, impact on auxiliary insects, and short shelf life.
The second research line in collaboration with SEDQ is focused on Leptoglossus occidentalis (Heteroptera: Coreidae), a major pest of conifers, both nymphs and adults feeds on pine cones, and consequently affects the pine seed production, leading to great economic losses. Up to date, there is a lack of knowledge regarding the chemical cues involved in the interspecific communication and host selection, which in turn has hindered the development of any reliable management strategy against the species. Under this scenario, our group is targeting to define species-specific approaches for its control, based on naturally-occurring bioactive molecules
Adult and nymphs of L. occidentalis