The smell of crop disaster: UF research on citrus greening

June 04, 2014

Paul Brinkmann

Insects that carry the devastating citrus greening disease are attracted by an odor that sick trees give off, researchers at University of Florida found.

The research advances understanding of the costly disease, which is damaging Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry.

The research found that psyllids – tiny bugs – are attracted to the odor emitted by an infected citrus tree. According to a news release, the scent may also help wasps find and eat psyllids.

A spokeswoman for UF said the research does not identify a “cure” for citrus greening. There are attempts to use wasps to control the disease, however.

The research was published May 29, authored by Lukasz Stelinski, associate professor of entomology and nematology at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred. Stelinksi wrote the paper with Xavier Martini, a postdoctoral associate and Kirsten Pelz-Stelinksi, an associate professor of entomology, both at CREC. Their findings were published May 28 by Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

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The hungry psyllid is attracted to the infected tree, even though pathogen-infected trees are less nutritious to psyllids than healthy ones.

“This may be a mechanism, among many, that encourages the spread of the pathogen,” Stelinski said. “The finding makes the tree look like a beacon in a sea of uninfected trees.”


Courtesy Orlando Sentinel

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