This experiment is part of the Entomological Society of America Grant Challenge Challenge Grant. Browse more projects

Evaluating biocontrol techniques against the South American tomato leafminer, Tuta absoluta, an invasive pest worldwide

Raised of $1,000 Goal
Ended on 3/21/19
Campaign Ended
  • $423
  • 43%
  • Finished
    on 3/21/19

About This Project

The South America tomato leafminer, Tuta absoluta, is a Neotropical invasive pest, affecting worldwide production. Its biological control, as an alternative to the current massive use of pesticides, is worth studying. In this field experiment, we are aimed to continue evaluating the potential of the wasp Pseudapanteles dignus as a biocontrol agent to reduce pest populations in greenhouses. Further, those data will be used for programming a prediction model of biocontrol.

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What is the context of this research?

Fresh vegetables and fruits are food consumed daily worldwide. Conventionally, crop protection measures are based on chemical control, that leads to food contamination, and negative environmental and social consequences. We investigate ways to increase the production of these main foods using biocontrol, a safe strategy which relies in the action of natural enemies (van Lenteren 2012, BioContr, 75, 1-2). Particularly for invading pests, such as Tuta absoluta, biocontrol is regarded as a promising tactic for pest management, used alone or combined with others to deal with native or already established pests (Salas Gervassio et al 2016, Agric Forest Entomol, 18, 137-144).

What is the significance of this project?

The project proposes to continue evaluating the action of a parasitoid wasp, P. dignus, as a biological control agent of the invasive pest T. absoluta. We have got previous results from similar experiments in which we varied pest and wasp densities.

Experiment funding will help us completing this large-scale experiment and obtain reliable information of P. dignus effectiveness in real scenarios (tomato greenhouses). The whole data will be used for further parameterizing and validating a simulation model to predict T. absoluta biocontrol by the wasp.

Results will be shared with public, especially farmers and extension services. Besides, it could potentially be useful for researchers abroad to manage T. absoluta invasion in other continents.

What are the goals of the project?

The objective of the experiment proposed is to analyze the effect of pest mortality by releasing certain number of female wasps, mass reared in the lab, in cages with plants infested with a known number of T. absoluta larvae (we call this Treatment 1).

We will consider two control treatments: plants infested with T. absoluta and no wasp application (Treatment 2), and plants free of insects (Treatment 3).

After that, we will monitor both insect populations weekly throughout the cropping cycle. Fruits will be harvested following intervals.

We predict that in Treatment 1, which has the presence of wasps killing the pest, plants will be healthier, tomato production higher and fruit quality better (no pest marks and free of pesticide residues).


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In a larger project, we are aimed to developing biocontrol against T. absoluta and to improving pesticide-free fresh food production. Getting this financial aid will help us to perform a smaller part of the main project, that consists in replicating different T.absoluta: P. dignus releasing densities. This is critical to comparing the effectiveness of P. dignus -the biocontrol agent- in reducing the pest population with other relative T.absoluta: P. dignus densities already tested. We need to buy supplies for the mass-rearing of the insect colonies in the laboratory that will be used during the releases, to pay for installing the netted cages and some crop maintenance in the experimental greenhouse, and for vehicle costs during the length of the experiment (weekly short travels throughout a 9-weeks tomato cropping cycle).

We count with a well-equipped Lab , some supplies, 9 cages made with anti-aphid mesh fabric, and UNLP, MINCyT and CONICET funding (Argentina).

Endorsed by

I consider this project to be of great importance for world tomato production. The researches carried out in the past years by the CEPAVE entomology team, on the biology of this phytophagous insect and their parasitoids are the state of the art of the scientific knowledge. I consider this working group to be the best one to carry out this project.
I recommend supporting this project. T. absoluta is an invasive pest that reduces the production of tomatoes. The development of environmentally friendly production and sustainable technologies are necessary. The proposal goes in this direction and it´s based on the biocontrol of T. absoluta. They have novel information regarding the parasitoid which indicates it’s a very good biocontrol agent in greenhouses. The lack of subsidies in Argentina is notorious. The obtained information could potentially be useful to manage T. absoluta invasion
Tuta absoluta is one of the main insect pests in tomato crops of Argentina and around the world. The development of biological control strategies to manage this pest is highly desirable. In this regard, this proposal aims at giving continuity to the studies developed by the research team about a larval parasitoid of T. absoluta. Given the quality of the proposal as well as that of the involved researchers, I strongly recommend its support.
There is an urgent need to replace chemical control by biological control of pests in horticultural crops in Argentina. The research group led by Professor M. Gabriela Luna has an extensive experience in the management of Tuta absoluta, a key tomato pest which is rapidly expanding all over the world, and its main native parasitoid Pseudapanteles dignus. This project will undoubtedly contribute to a more sustainable practice in a country where the grants are increasingly scarce. I strongly recommend the support of this high quality proposal.
The project of María Gabriela Luna and her research group is novel for the management of T. absoluta in the tomato crop. I know the scientific spertise, creativity and enthusiasm of this researcher, with whom I share teaching and other academic activities. The results will have a strong impact on the biological control of an invasive species that causes economic damage throughout the world. I am absolutely convinced of the success of this experiment!

Project Timeline

We intend to perform this experiment during the late tomato cropping season which will take place from December 2019 to May 2020. We need to prepare the experimental greenhouse at the Gorina Experimental Station. Since there are not any of the insect species commercially available, we will collect founders to start colonies by September 2019. The experiment will be monitored throughout the cropping cycle. Data processing and publication will be done by July 2020.

Feb 04, 2019

Project Launched

Sep 01, 2019

Growing tomato plants and field collection of insects to start colonies in the laboratory at the CEPAVE

Oct 01, 2019

Growing tomato plants and mass-rearing insects in the laboratory at the CEPAVE 

Dec 11, 2019

Starting the preparation of a tomato greenhouse in the Gorina Experimental Station (Ministry of Agroindustry, Buenos Aires Province).  

Jan 06, 2020

Cropping and tutoring tomato plants

Meet the Team

María Gabriela Luna
María Gabriela Luna
Dr. in Natural Sciences (UNLP), Argentina


CEPAVE (CONICET-UNLP) and Universidad Nacional de San Antonio de Areco (UNSAdA), Argentina
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Nadia Salas Gervassio
Nadia Salas Gervassio
Dr. in Natural Sciences (UNLP), Argentina


CEPAVE (CONICET-UNLP) and Universidad Nacional de San Antonio de Areco (UNSAdA), Argentina
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Franco D'Auro
Franco D'Auro
Graduate in Ecology


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Team Bio

Our Lab is dedicated to ecological studies on arthropod pests of agricultural crops in Argentina.

Gaby Luna is a senior researcher at the Lab. Nadia Salas Gervassio and Franco D´Auro met at Dr. Luna´s classes.

We feel qualified to perform the experiment proposed, based on our scientific background and previous work done in relation to the biological control of T. absoluta by P. dignus .

For more information about the research conducted in our Lab, please visit the link (in Spanish)

María Gabriela Luna

My career interest has been mainly the biological control of agricultural pests by parasitoid and predatory insects. I focus my research on Agrecology and Integrated Pest Management disciplines. Biological control is a technique based in the action of natural enemies against agricultural pests. The development of a biological control program requires procedures to evaluate potential candidates among a complex of species, and select the best biological control agent/s. Currently, I am studying different aspects of the biological control of the South American tomato leafminer, Tuta absoluta, by means of the evaluation of predatory and parasitoid species.

I teach undergraduate and graduate courses on General Biology, Community Ecology, Biological Control and Pest Ecology at Universidad de La Plata, Universidad de Buenos Aires and Universidad de San Antonio de Areco (Argentina).

Publications (last 5 years):

Papers in Journals

Speranza et al. 2014. Fla Entomol 97: 295-297

Luna et al. 2015.Fla Entomol 98: 489-492

Nieves et al. 2015. J Econ Entomol 108: 1553-1559

Luft et al. 2015. Rev Fac Cs Agr UNCuyo 47: 219-229

Salas Gervassio et al. 2016. Agric Forest Entomol 18: 137-144

Salas Gervassio et al. 2016. Ins Sci 24: 809-817

Savino et al. 2016. Bull Entomol Res 107: 32-38.

Luna et al. 2016. PLoS ONE 11(10): e0163196.

Garrido et al. 2017. Rev Soc Arg Entomol 76: 46-49.

Salas Gervassio et al. 2018. J Econ Entomol 111: 528-532

Salas Gervassio et al. 2019 (accepted, in press). J Pest Sci. SPECIAL ISSUE 2019

Ferracini C et al. 2019 (accepted, in press). Biocontr Sci & Tech


van Lenteren et al. (Eds.). (2019, accepted). The rich history of and bright future for biological control in Latin America. CAB International.

Supervision: 1 assistant researcher CIC-BA; 5 PhD and 3 MSc students (UNLP and UBA, Argentina); 4 internships by undergraduate students

Nadia Salas Gervassio

I am graduated in Biology and Dr. in Natural Sciences at the University National of La Plata, Argentina. My interest is the study of the ecology of agricultural pests of economic importance. My main research topic at this time is to developing biological control of Tuta absoluta by evaluating biological traits of natural enemies of this pest.

As a doctoral fellow, I stayed at Dr. Urbaneja´s Lab (IVIA, Valencia, Spain) to gain expertise in studying mirid bugs as biocontrol agents in horticultural crops.

I am lecturer from Universidad Nacional de San Antonio de Areco.


Salas Gervassio et al. 2016. Agricultural and Forest Entomology. 18, 137-144.

Salas Gervassio et al. 2016. Insect Science. 00, 1-9.

Salas Gervassio et al. 2017. Journal of Economic Entomology. 111, 528-532.

Ferracini C et al. 2019 (accepted, in press). Biocontr Sci & Tech.

Salas Gervassio et al. 2019. Journal of Pest Science. SPECIAL ISSUE 2019.

Franco D'Auro

I am graduated in Ecology at Universidad Nacional de La Plata (Argentina) and am doing my PhD at CEPAVE (CONICET-UNLP, Argentina). The Thesis project deals with the host-parasitoid interaction between the tomato leafminer Tuta absoluta and its parasitic wasp Pseudapanteles dignus. I am interested in developing a mathematical model that predicts demographic changes of the tomato leafminer and the parasitic wasp in a real tomato crop under greenhouse conditions. With this model we will be able to estimate the potential of the parasitic wasp to control efficiently the tomato leafminer. However, to buiId the model, I need reliable information from lab and field assays on these interacting species. This experiment will provide key data to develop an efficient model.


Salas Gervassio et al. 2017. Journal of Economic Entomology. 111, 528-532.

Additional Information

The research proposed will expand previous work done on Tuta absoluta biological control by assessing the action of a tiny parasitoid wasp, Pseudapanteles dignus, in reducing the pest population in an experimental greenhouse.

This invasive pest attacks leaves, stems and fruits of tomato crops in almost all continents

The parasitoid wasp, P. dignus, is a quite specific natural enemy of T. absoluta that efficiently searchs for and attacks the pest larvae, providing good biological control

Let us introducing the wasp Pseudapanteles dignus to you. This is a tiny parasitoid wasp distributed in the American continent. The adult female efficiently searches and kills Tuta absoluta larvae (as in the Alien movie!).

Once the P. dignus (parasitoid) larva kills the T. absoluta (pest) larva, emerges and spins a cocoon that usually is attached to foliage

Here you can observe the experimental set-up to evaluate the performance of the wasp as a biological control agent of T. absoluta: the zipped cages of 3m width x 3m length x 2m heigth, containing 18 plants per cage, are installed in the greenhouse. Plants are firstly infested with T. absoluta larvae and later adult wasps are released in the cages to exert pest control. The project goal is to assess the effect of varying pest and wasp densities per plant to adjust releasing doses to accomplish effective predicting T. absoluta control.

Nadia is entering in one of the cages, for weekly monitoring the experiment progress (More details of the experimental design, see the Goals of the project section).

Experimental set-up. The banner announces: Nature´s working, and shows the action of a P. dignus female wasp laying eggs into a T. absoluta larva.

Project Backers

  • 11Backers
  • 43%Funded
  • $423Total Donations
  • $34.80Average Donation
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