Nav: Home

Tobacco plant 'stickiness' aids helpful insects, plant health

August 08, 2019

Researchers at North Carolina State University have shown that "sticky" hairlike structures on tobacco leaves can help attract beneficial insects that scavenge on other insects trapped on the leaves, increasing leaf yield and reducing pest damage to plant structures.

In a study examining pests of tobacco plants and opportunistic insects that eat the pests, researchers show that sticky glandular trichomes on tobacco leaves trap insects that aren't adapted to interacting with perilous plant surfaces. The trapped insects perish and then become food for the spined stilt bug (Jalysus wickhami) - a small but long-legged insect predator that has a beneficial relationship with tobacco plants.

Tobacco plants provide a trapped-insect buffet that spined stilt bugs are more than happy to feast upon, which helps protect the plant from pest infestation and damage. Better still, the spined stilt bug - which uses its long legs as leverage to navigate across the sticky parts of tobacco leaves to reach its bug banquet - isn't harmful to tobacco plants, researchers say, although it drinks some sap from tobacco plants to stay hydrated between pest meals.

"A sticky plant isn't a dead end for all insects; some actually prefer sticky plants and take advantage of the difficult plant surface," said Peter Nelson, an NC State Ph.D. graduate and lead author of a paper describing the study.

"By taking a closer look at how insects interact with plants, we might be able to take advantage of unique interactions for pest management," Nelson added. "Our review of the literature found that over 25 economically important plants have sticky surfaces that trap insects and might benefit from the same type of interaction with predatory arthropods."

"This is a mutualistic relationship previously unrecognized on domesticated tobacco plants," said Clyde Sorenson, Alumni Association Distinguished Undergraduate Professor of Entomology at NC State and corresponding author of the paper. "The academic literature shows a number of wild flowers with similar symbiotic relationships with predators to reduce damage to the plant, but tobacco is the first economically important plant to show this mutualistic relationship."

In the study, the abundance of spined stilt bugs grew when researchers added dead fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) to the leaves of tobacco plants in greenhouse and field settings. Increased leaf yield - the primary economic consideration for tobacco farmers - and less damage to tobacco plant structures resulted when additional fruit flies were added to leaves.

The study also showed that insecticide use did not affect pest entrapment by sticky glandular trichomes. Plants treated with imidacloprid, a common tobacco insecticide, had fewer spined stilt bugs than untreated plants, but that did not significantly affect pest densities or plant health.

Surprisingly, the study showed that densities of pests like the tobacco budworm on tobacco leaves did not decrease, even though more spined stilt bugs were present.

"We're not completely sure about why this counterintuitive finding occurred, although one hypothesis is that the increased number of predator stilt bugs may trigger a behavioral response in the tobacco budworm and other pests to feed less on tobacco plants," Sorenson said.

Sorenson said the results could lead to further improvement or manipulation of glandular trichomes.

"We don't expect farmers to throw dead fruit flies on 40 acres of a tobacco crop, but recognizing the effects of beneficial insects and how these mutually beneficial relationships work is important," he said. "Plus, these types of effects may occur in other economically important crops with glandular trichomes, like tomatoes."
-end-
The study appears in Biological Control. Hannah Burrack, professor of entomology and extension specialist, co-authored the paper. The North Carolina Tobacco Research Commission funded the study.

Note to editors: An abstract of the paper follows.

"Arthropod entrapment increases specialist predators on a sticky crop and reduces damage"
Authors: Peter Nelson, Hannah Burrack and Clyde Sorenson, North Carolina State University
Published: August 2019 in Biological Control
DOI: 10.1016/j.biocontrol.2019.104021

Abstract: Maximizing plant defensive strategies is integral to effective integrated pest management. Direct defenses, in the form of chemical and morphological components that inhibit pest damage, underlie host plant resistance, while indirect defenses, including food provisioning and semiochemical production, improve biological control. Interactions between the two defensive strategies may be disruptive, complementary, or synergistic and are an important consideration for effective pest management programs. Glandular trichomes are plant structures that inhibit or entrap arthropods, protecting plants against herbivores, potentially at the cost of reducing natural enemy efficacy. Glandular trichomes may also contribute to indirect defense, as predatory arthropods adapted to "sticky" surfaces scavenge on entrapped arthropods. Scavenging increases predator abundance and reduces plant damage; this protective mutualism has been demonstrated with multiple sticky wild flowers but has not been assessed in an economically important plant, such as tobacco. We augmented dead arthropods (carrion) on tobacco plants grown under conditions similar to commercial production and assessed tri-trophic interactions. Carrion augmentation increased predator abundance, reduced damage to reproductive structures, and increased leaf yield, but did not reduce pest densities. We determined that systemic insecticide use did not affect carrion entrapment on tobacco plants. Review of the literature revealed that a variety of economically important plants entrap arthropods on their surfaces, indicating this mutualism has potential for development into a conservation biological control tactic.

North Carolina State University

Related Science Articles:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.
Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.
Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.
World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.
PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.
More Science News and Science Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.