Mating disruption as an IPM tool in diamondback moth management

Mating disruption as an IPM tool in diamondback moth management

Brussels sprouts field

Brussels sprouts field in Santa Maria

The diamondback moth, Plutella xylostella (Lepidoptera: Plutellidae) is an important pest of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, and other cruciferous crops.  It exclusively feeds on cultivated and weedy crucifers and has a worldwide distribution.  Larvae feed on foliage and growing parts of young plants or bore into the heads or flower buds resulting in skeletonization of leaves, stunting of the plants, or failure of head formation in some hosts.  In warmer areas, the diamondback moth has up to 12 generations per year.  While multiple species of parasitoids and predatory arthropods provide some level of natural control, insecticidal applications are a primary means of diamondback moth management.  Although several synthetic and biological pesticides are effective against the diamondback moth, resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis (Ferré et al. 1991), abamectin (Pu et al. 2009), emamectin benzoate, indoxacarb, and spinosad (Zhao et al. 2006), pyrethroids and other pesticides (Leibee and Savage 1992; Endersby et al. 2011) has been well-known from around the world.  Excessive use of any kind of pesticide leads to resistance problems (Dara 2020; also see a video presentation) to an individual pesticide or multiple pesticides.  Integrated pest management (IPM) strategy encourages the use of various control options both for maintaining pest control efficacy and reducing the risk of resistance development (Dara 2019).  Regularly monitoring the pest populations to make treatment decisions, rotating pesticides with different modes of action, exploring the potential of biocontrol agents, and other non-chemical control approaches such as mating disruption with pheromones are some of the IPM strategies for controlling the diamondback moth.  While sex pheromones effectively used to manage several lepidopteran pests and are proven to be a critical IPM tool, mating disruption is not fully explored for controlling the diamondback moth.  A study was conducted in Brussels sprouts to evaluate the efficacy of a sprayable pheromone against the diamondback moth and to enhance the current IPM strategies.

DBM larva and adult-JKC, UC IPM
Diamondback moth larva and adult (above, photo by Jack Kelly Clark, UC IPM) and
feeding damage in cauliflower (below, photo by Surendra Dara, UCCE)
DBM damage in cauliflower


The study was conducted on a 10-acre Brussels sprouts field in Santa Maria.  Cultivar Marte was planted in early July 2020 with expected harvesting in mid to late December.  A typical diamondback control program includes monitoring diamondback moth populations with the help of sticky traps and lures and applying various combinations of biological and synthetic pesticides at regular intervals.  This study evaluated the efficacy of adding CheckMate DBM-F to the grower standard practice of monitoring the diamondback moth populations with traps and lures and applying pesticides.  Treatments included i) grower standard pesticide program (Table 1) and ii) grower standard pesticide program with two applications of 3.1 fl oz of CheckMate DBM-F on 9 August and 11 September.  Treatment materials were applied by a tractor-mounted sprayer using a 100 gpa spray volume and necessary buffering agents and surfactants.  Each treatment was 5 ac and divided into four quadrants representing four replications.  In the middle of each quadrant, one Suterra Wing Trap was set up with a Trécé Pherocon Diamondback Moth Lure.  Lures were replaced once a month in early September and early October.  Sticky liners of the traps were replaced every week to count the number of moths trapped.  Traps were placed on 1, 12, and 24 August, 1, 11, 18, and 27 September, and 6 October and the moth counts were taken from respective traps on 8 and 20 August, 1, 11, 18, and 27 September, 6 and 15 October.  CheckMate DBM-F was applied at 3.1 fl oz/ac on 9 August and 11 September.  The number of larvae and their feeding damage on a scale of 0 to 4 (where 0=no damage, 1=light damage, 2=moderate damage, 3=high damage, 4=extensive/irrecoverable) were recorded from 25 random plants within each replication on 30 August and 6 and 18 October.  Data were subjected to analysis of variance using Statistix software and significant means were separated using Tukey's HSD test.  The retail value of various pesticides was also obtained to compare the cost of treatments. 

Table 1.  Pesticides, buffering agents, and surfactants, their active ingredients, rates/ac (along with the IRAC mode of action groups), and retail pricing for those applied in the grower standard diamondback moth control program.

Table 1
Traps with lures

Wing trap with septa lures

When CheckMate DBM-F [(Z)-11-Hexadecenal (3) , (Z) - 11 - Hexadecen-1-yl Acetate (1)] was applied the first time on 9 August, Dibrom 8 Emulsive was replaced with Warrior II, the buffering agent Quest was not used, and the surfactant Dyne-Amic was replaced with Induce (dimethylpolysiloxane) to avoid potential compatibility issues.  The impact of this substitution is expected to be negligible within the scope of this study.  The retail cost of 3.1 fl oz CheckMate DBM-F is $45.60.  The cost of lures and traps would be about $4-8 per acre for a six-month crop like Brussels sprouts.

Tamas Zold taking counts
Tamas Zold checking the plants for larvae and their damage

Results and Discussion

Moth populations: Traps in replication 4 in both treatments on 8 August and replication 1 in the grower standard were missing, probably knocked down by a tractor.  The day before CheckMate DBM-F was first applied, the mean number of adult diamondback moths caught were 227 in the grower standard and 271 in the plots that would receive the pheromone application.  There was a gradual decline in moth counts during the rest of the observation period in both treatments.  However, the decline was higher in the plots that received CheckMate DBM-F.  The number of moths per trap were about 19% higher in the pheromone-treated plots compared to the grower standard before the study but were nearly 98% lower by the end of the study.  The reduction in moth populations from mating disruption was significant on 18 September (P =0.039) and 15 October (P = 0.006).

DBM Trap Counts
Mean number of diamondback moth adults found in the traps (above) and 
reduction in moth populations by adding pheromone for mating disruption (below)
Percent control due to mating disruption
Moths on traps
Adult diamondback moths on the last observation date in treatments with and without the pheromone

Larval populations: The mean number of larvae per 25 plants in a replication was zero on all observation dates except for 0.01 on 30 August in the plots that received CheckMate. Four insecticide applications by the time the study was initiated, and the remaining six applications effectively suppressed larval populations.

Damage ratings: Larval feeding damage ratings were consistently low (P < 0.0001) in the plants that did not receive CheckMate DBM-F.  The damage was limited to the older leaves at the bottom of the plants and must have been from early feeding before the initiation of the study.  The lack of larvae and the evidence of new feeding damage also confirm that the crop remained healthy and pest-free.

Feeding damage
Feeding damage by diamondback moth larvae

Since frequent pesticide applications effectively suppressed larval populations and prevented their feeding damage, the effectiveness of mating disruption in reducing yield losses could not be determined in this study.  Since larval counts were not made weekly or between pesticide applications, those that were probably present between the pesticide applications could not be determined.  Moths found in the traps probably developed from the larvae in the field or could have been those that flew in from other areas.  However, lower moth populations in CheckMate DBM-F treatment demonstrated the overall influence of mating disruption and pest suppression.

It is common to make about 10-12 pesticide sprays during the 6-month crop cycle of Brussels sprouts.  The cost of each application varied from about $73 to $192 depending on the materials used with an average cost of about $128 per application in this study.  The cost of two CheckMate DBM-F applications is $91.  If diamondback moth populations could be reduced with mating disruption, it is estimated that 2-3 pesticide applications could be eliminated.  That results in $164 to $292 of saving for the pesticide costs and additional savings in the application costs per acre by investing $91 in the mating disruption.  Since the diamondback moth can develop resistance to several chemical and natural pesticides, eliminating some applications as a result of mating disruption also contributes to resistance management along with potential negative impact of pesticides on the environment.  Compared to other mating disruption strategies, a sprayable formulation compatible with other agricultural inputs is easier and cost-effective to use.

This study demonstrated that mating disruption with CheckMate DBM-F will significantly enhance the current IPM practices by reducing pest populations, contributing to insecticide resistance management, and reducing pest management costs.  Additional studies, with fewer pesticide applications that allow larvae to survive and cause some damage, might further help understand the role of mating disruption where pest populations are not managed as effectively as in this field.

Acknowledgments: Thanks to the PCA and the grower for their research collaboration, Tamas Zold for his technical assistance in data collection, Ingrid Schumann for market research of pesticide pricing, and Suterra for the financial support.


Dara, S. K.  2019.  The new integrated pest management paradigm for the modern age.  J. Int. Pest Manag. 10: 12.

Dara, S. K. 2020.  Arthropod resistance to biopesticides.  Organic Farmer 3 (4): 16-19.

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Pu, X., Y. Yang, S. Wu, and Y. Wu.  2009.  Characterisation of abamectin resistance in a field-evolved multiresistant population of Plutella xylostella.  Pest Manag. Sci. 66: 371-378.

Zhao, J-Z., H. L. Collins, Y-X. Li, R.F.L. Mau, G. D. Thompson, M. Hertlein, J. T. Andaloro, R. Boykin, and A. M. Shelton.  2006.  Monitoring of diamondback moth (Lepidoptera: Plutellidae) resistance to spinosad, indoxacarb, and emamectin benzoate. J. Econ. Entomol. 99: 176-181.

By Surendra K. Dara
Author - Cooperative Extension Advisor-Entomology and Biologicals