Bulletin of Entomological Research

Research Paper

Trophic relationships between predators, whiteflies and their parasitoids in tomato greenhouses: a molecular approach

R. Moreno-Ripolla1, R. Gabarraa1, W.O.C. Symondsona2, R.A. Kinga2 p1 and N. Agustía1 c1

a1 IRTA, Entomology, Ctra. de Cabrils, Km. 2, E-08348 Cabrils, Barcelona, Spain

a2 Cardiff School of Biosciences, Biomedical Sciences Building, Cardiff University, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX, UK


The whiteflies Bemisia tabaci Gennadius and Trialeurodes vaporariorum (Westwood) (Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae) are two of the main pests in tomato crops. Their biological control in Mediterranean IPM systems is based on the predators Macrolophus pygmaeus (Rambur) and Nesidiocoris tenuis Reuter (Hemiptera: Miridae), as well as on the parasitoids Eretmocerus mundus (Mercet) and Encarsia pergandiella Howard (Hymenoptera: Aphelinidae). These natural enemies may interact with each other and their joint use could interfere with the biological control of those whitefly pests. Analysis of predator-prey interactions under field conditions is therefore essential in order to optimize whitefly control. Species-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-primers were designed to detect DNA fragments of these whiteflies and parasitoids within both predator species in tomato greenhouses. We demonstrated that both predators feed on both whitefly species, as well as on both parasitoids under greenhouse conditions. Prey molecular detection was possible where prey abundance was very low or even where predation was not observed under a microscope. Whitefly DNA detection was positively correlated with adult whitefly abundance in the crop. However, a significant relationship was not observed between parasitoid DNA detection and the abundance of parasitoid pupae, even though the predation rate on parasitoids was high. This unidirectional intraguild predation (predators on parasitoids) could potentially reduce their combined impact on their joint prey/host. Prey molecular detection provided improved detection of prey consumption in greenhouse crops, as well as the possibility to identify which prey species were consumed by each predator species present in the greenhouse, offering a blueprint with wider applicability to other food webs.

(Accepted November 30 2011)

(Online publication February 07 2012)


c1 Author for correspondence Fax: (34) 93 7533954 E-mail: nuria.agusti@irta.cat

p1 Current address: College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Geoffrey Pope Building, University of Exeter Stocker Road, Exeter, EX4 4QD UK