The tomato leafminer Tuta absoluta Meyrick (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae) is one of the most important pests of tomato worldwide. However, in spite of its tremendous economic importance, the success of environmentally friendly measures to control the pest is still limited. Study of physiological and behavioral parameters that affect pheromone production has provided useful information for pest management. Our results show no clear difference in pheromone production by females over the period from 2 h before to 2 h after the scotophase. However, pheromone production was clearly dependent on female age, with young females producing the highest amount of each pheromone component 10 days after emergence. In the presence of the host plant (physical contact and olfaction of the plant volatiles), virgin and mated females produced higher amounts of the major component of the pheromone (TDTA) than those in the absence of plant and those devoid of olfaction (antennectomized) but in physical contact with the plant. In electrophysiological experiments, TDTA elicited slightly lower responses on male antennae than the pheromone mixture. When stimulated at certain time intervals after the first exposure to TDTA, male antennae became more sensitive to the stimulus (sensitization effect). For the first time in an insect of the family Gelechiidae, we have found that females are able to detect their own pheromone (autodetection). Altogether, our results may represent a step forward in the knowledge of the chemical communication of this important pest.
Keywords: Tuta absoluta; autodetection; electrophysiology; olfaction; pheromone production; sensitization; tomato leafminer.