Plant Health

Theme Lead: Professor Toby Bruce

Agricultural pests are evolving resistance to pesticides at a faster pace than new products are entering the market. Emerging invasive pests and diseases are spreading, facilitated by trade and climate change. Furthermore, legislative changes are restricting the availability of conventional pesticides as consumers and governments are demanding reduced pesticide use. Insect pests are an ecological challenge – where the population of a herbivore, considered a pest in an agricultural context, has gone out of control.

There is an urgent need for innovation because farmers are currently over-reliant on a limited number of pesticides. Our research focuses on horticultural and agricultural pest targets including aphids, fall armyworm and thrips. We are aware of the important role insects play as disease vectors in crops and collaborate with colleagues with expertise on insect vectors for human diseases such as mosquitoes.

Key areas of research and interventions include the following:

  • Use of repellents and attractants in push-pull systems
  • Nanoformulations of phytochemicals
  • Deployment of pheromones in traps
  • Defence induction with plant activators
  • Enhancing biocontrol with natural enemies of pests

Our research can be applied to improve crop protection to secure harvests. Insect pests devastate crops causing billions of dollars of losses, through feeding damage and spreading diseases. They jeopardise food security and the viability of agricultural enterprises. Meanwhile, there is increasing concern about the off-target effects of current pesticides. This means there is scientific challenge to discover new solutions.

Academic staff members in this research theme include the following:

Academic staff

Professor Toby Bruce

Professor Toby Bruce
Professor of Insect Chemical Ecology

Expert in Fall armyworm, food security, crop protection, biological pest control.

Dr Thomas Torode

Dr Thomas Torode

Selected recent publications

Sobhy IS et al. (2022) Bioactive volatiles from Push-Pull companion crops repel fall armyworm and attract its parasitoids. Frontiers Ecol Evol. 10: 883020.

Bruce TJA et al. (2021) Effects of cis-jasmone treatment of brassicas on interactions with Myzus persicae aphids and parasitoid Diaeretiella rapae. Frontiers Plant Sci. 12: 711896.

Tamiru A, et al. (2020) Genome wide association analysis of a stemborer egg induced “call-for-help” defence trait in maize. Sci. Reports 10: 1-12.

Wamonje et al. (2020) Three aphid-transmitted viruses encourage vector migration from infected common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) plants through a combination of volatile and surface cues. Frontiers Plant Sci. 11: 613772.

Kirk W (2021) Semiochemicals for thrips and their use in pest management'. Annual Review of Entomology 66:101–19