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Researchers use 'banker plants' to help battle whitefly pests
Date:9/10/2012

This press release is available in Spanish.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientist is showing growers how to combat whiteflies and other crop pests by using plants as storehouses for predatory insects that can migrate to cash crops and feed on the pests attacking those crops.

Cindy L. McKenzie, an entomologist in the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Subtropical Insects Research Unit at Fort Pierce, Fla., has done extensive work showing how papaya, corn and ornamental peppers can serve as "banker plants" for a range of insect parasitoids and predators. ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.

Banker plants are considered environmentally friendly because they reduce insecticide use and offer a low-cost, self-perpetuating alternative. The predators eat what they find on the banker plants and then disperse to find targeted pests on cash crops. Before they leave the banker plants, most of the predators will lay eggs on them, which extends the effect into subsequent generations. Lower pesticide use also means pests like spider mites, thrips, and whiteflies are less likely to develop resistance to the pesticides.

Using banker plants is a balancing act. Researchers must select not only the insect predators themselves, but also alternative prey that will keep the predators fed, but won't damage the cash crops. They also need banker plants and predators that will not host or spread diseases to the cash crops.

In a study designed for Florida's greenhouse poinsettia operations, McKenzie worked with entomologist Lance S. Osborne and postdoctoral researcher Yingfang Xiao, both at the University of Florida Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka. They chose papaya (Carica papaya) for their banker
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Contact: Dennis OBrien
dennis.obrien@ars.usda.gov
301-504-1624
United States Department of Agriculture - Research, Education and Economics
Source:Eurekalert

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