How the humble marigold outsmarts a devastating tomato pest

March 01, 2019

Scientists have revealed for the first time the natural weapon used by marigolds to protect tomato plants against destructive whiteflies.

Researchers from Newcastle University's School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, carried out a study to prove what gardeners around the world have known for generations - marigolds repel tomato whiteflies.

Publishing their findings today (1 March) in the journal PLOS ONE, the experts have identified limonene - released by marigolds - as the main component responsible for keeping tomato whiteflies at bay. The insects find the smell of limonene repellent and are slowed down by the powerful chemical.

Large-scale application

The findings of the study have the potential to pave the way to developing a safer and cheaper alternatives to pesticides.

Since limonene repels the whitefly without killing them, using the chemical shouldn't lead to resistance, and the study has shown that it doesn't affect the quality of the produce. All it takes to deter the whiteflies is interspersing marigolds in tomato plots, or hang little pots of limonene in among the tomato plants so that the smell can disperse out into the tomato foliage.

In fact, the research team, led by Dr Colin Tosh and Niall Conboy, has shown that may be possible in to develop a product, similar to an air freshener, containing pure limonene, than can be hung in glasshouses to confuse the whiteflies by exposing them to a blast of limonene.

Newcastle University PhD student Niall said: "We spoke to many gardeners who knew marigolds were effective in protecting tomatoes against whiteflies, but it has never been tested scientifically.

"We found that the chemical which was released in the highest abundance from marigolds was limonene. This is exciting because limonene is inexpensive, it's not harmful and it's a lot less risky to use than pesticides, particularly when you don't apply it to the crop and it is only a weak scent in the air.

"Most pesticides are sprayed onto the crops. This doesn't only kill the pest that is targeted, it kills absolutely everything, including the natural enemies of the pest."

Limonene makes up around 90% of the oil in citrus peel and is commonly found in household air fresheners and mosquito repellent.

Dr Tosh said: "There is great potential to use limonene indoors and outdoors, either by planting marigolds near tomatoes, or by using pods of pure limonene. Another important benefit of using limonene is that it's not only safe to bees, but the marigolds provide nectar for the bees which are vital for pollination.

"Any alternative methods of whitefly control that can reduce pesticide use and introduce greater plant and animal diversity into agricultural and horticultural systems should be welcomed."

The researchers carried out two big glasshouse trials. Working with French marigolds in the first experiment, they established that the repellent effect works and that marigolds are an effective companion plant to keep whiteflies away from the tomato plants.

For the second experiment, the team used a machine that allowed them to analyse the gaseous and volatile chemicals released by the plants. Through this they were able to pinpoint which chemical was released from the marigolds. They also determined that interspersing marigolds with other companion plants, that whiteflies don't like, doesn't increase or decrease the repellent effect. It means that non-host plants of the whiteflies can repel them, not just marigolds.

A notorious pest

Whitefly adults are tiny, moth-like insects that feed on plant sap. They cause severe produce losses to an array of crops through transmission of a number of plant viruses and encouraging mould growth on the plant.

Dr Tosh said: "Direct feeding from both adults and larvae results in honeydew secretion at a very high rate. Honeydew secretion that covers the leaves reduces the photosynthetic capacity of the plant and renders fruit unmarketable."

Further studies will focus on developing a three companion plant mixture that will repel three major insect pests of tomato - whiteflies, spider mites and thrips.

Longer term, the researchers aim to publish a guide focussing on companion plants as an alternative to pesticides, which would be suitable across range of horticultural problems.
-end-
Reference

Companion planting with French marigolds protects tomato plants from glasshouse whiteflies through the emission of airborne limonene (link will be live at 7pm (UK time) on Friday 1 March)

Niall J.A. Conboy, Thomas McDaniel, Adam Ormerod, David George, Angharad M.R. Gatehouse1, Ellie Wharton, Paul Donohoe, Rhiannon Curtis, Colin R. Tosh
PLOS ONE. Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0213071

Newcastle University

Related Pesticides Articles from Brightsurf:

More plant diversity, less pesticides
Increasing plant diversity enhances the natural control of insect herbivory in grasslands.

In pursuit of alternative pesticides
Controlling crop pests is a key element of agriculture worldwide, but the environmental impact of insecticides is a growing concern.

Two pesticides approved for use in US harmful to bees
A previously banned insecticide, which was approved for agricultural use last year in the United States, is harmful for bees and other beneficial insects that are crucial for agriculture, and a second pesticide in widespread use also harms these insects.

Dingoes have gotten bigger over the last 80 years - and pesticides might be to blame
The average size of a dingo is increasing, but only in areas where poison-baits are used, a collaborative study led by UNSW Sydney shows.

Pesticides can protect crops from hydrophobic pollutants
Researchers have revealed that commercial pesticides can be applied to crops in the Cucurbitaceae family to decrease their accumulation of hydrophobic pollutants, thereby improving crop safety.

Honeybee lives shortened after exposure to two widely used pesticides
The lives of honeybees are shortened -- with evidence of physiological stress -- when they are exposed to the suggested application rates of two commercially available and widely used pesticides.

Pesticides increase the risk of schistosomiasis, a tropical disease
Schistosomiasis is a severe infectious disease caused by parasitic worms.

A proposal to change environmental risk assessment for pesticides
Despite regulatory frameworks designed to prevent environmental damage, pesticide use is still linked to declines in insects, birds and aquatic species, an outcome that raises questions about the efficacy of current regulatory procedures.

SDHI pesticides are toxic for human cells
French scientists led by a CNRS researcher have just revealed that eight succinate dehydrogenase inhibitor pesticide molecules do not just inhibit the SDH activity of fungi, but can also block that of earthworms, bees, and human cells in varying proportions.

Pesticides deliver a one-two punch to honey bees
A new paper in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry reveals that adjuvants, chemicals commonly added to pesticides, amplify toxicity affecting mortality rates, flight intensity, colony intensity, and pupae development in honey bees.

Read More: Pesticides News and Pesticides Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.