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Plantwise Technical Factsheet

Hessian fly (Mayetiola destructor)

Host plants / species affected
Agropyron (wheatgrass)
Hordeum vulgare (barley)
Secale cereale (rye)
Triticum (wheat)
Triticum aestivum (wheat)
List of symptoms/signs
Growing point  -  dieback
Inflorescence  -  dieback
Inflorescence  -  dwarfing; stunting
Inflorescence  -  twisting and distortion
Stems  -  dieback
Stems  -  distortion
Stems  -  stunting or rosetting
Whole plant  -  dwarfing
In autumn and spring, larval feeding on young plants stunts growth and the central shoots yellow and die. Severe infestations at this stage may kill plants, resulting in gaps in the crop. At later stages of crop growth the developing stems are weakened by larvae feeding at the nodes. This results in withering and lodging, which causes loss of yield since the earheads fail to develop. Any grain developing in affected heads tends to be of poor quality.
Prevention and control
Cultural Control

Barnes (1956) reviewed the development of control measures and summarized general practices in the USA for cultural control, which include crop rotation, ploughing-in stubbles, destruction of volunteer wheat plants, good soil preparation with the use of good seed to ensure quick germination, and moderately late sowing of winter wheat to avoid infestation by the autumn generation of adults. Barnes emphasized that these practices must be modified to meet local conditions and noted the emphasis that had always been laid on a thorough knowledge of the local biology and bionomics of M. destructor and the integration of such information with good farming practice on a co-operative basis.

Refinement of these methods has continued in the USA (Chapin et al., 1992; Buntin et al., 1991; Buntin and Bruckner, 1990; Buntin et al., 1990) and in other areas where M. destructor is a persistent pest, such as Spain (Moral et al., 1994) and Kazakhstan (Evdokimov et al., 1986).

Biological Control

High levels of natural parasitism have been recorded in many areas where M. destructor is a pest, and conservation of these natural enemies is important. Classical biological control by introduction of non-indigenous agents has not been attempted in recent years, but some deliberate and some accidental introductions have been made in the past and these account for the presence of non-indigenous parasitoids in North America and in New Zealand (Barnes, 1956). Luck (1981) noted successful introductions of Pediobius metallicus from the UK to the USA in the 1890s and unsuccessful introductions of Platygaster pleuron and Trichasis remulus in the 1930s.

In North America the egg parasitoid Platygaster hiemalis shows greatest promise as a biological control agent as it attacks the autumn generation of the pest and therefore limits initial attack in the following season (Schuster and Liddell, 1990).

A novel development in the use of biological control in the USA has involved the inundative release of a dominant avirulent Great Plains biotype to suppress an Indiana population of eastern soft wheat biotypes (Foster, 1977).

Host-Plant Resistance

Plant breeding for resistance has been the main control strategy used against this pest in North America for many years, and includes the pioneering work by R H Painter and colleagues (Painter, 1951). Barnes (1956) reviewed this and other work. Much new research and development has been completed since then and the extensive literature should be consulted for details.

In North America, at least 16 biotypes have been recognized (Patterson et al., 1992) and 25 genes conferring resistance have been identified in wheat (Dweikat et al., 1994).

The first source of host plant resistance in durum wheats has been detected in Morocco and is being used by CIMMYT, ICARDA and Moroccan plant breeders to develop resistant durum wheat varieties. El Bouhssini et al. (1998) reported that screening of 347 accessions of Aegilops against M. destructor in Morocco has revealed a number of sources of resistance, expressed as antibiosis against first-instar larvae, which could be exploited by transfer into wheat. Transfer of one resistance gene from Aegilops ventricosa into hexaploid wheat has been reported by Delibes et al. (1997).

El Bouhssini et al. (1998) studied larval survival on resistant wheat plants and found that the operation of most genes that condition antibiosis to Mayetiola destructor results in some survival. Wheats carrying genes H3, H5, H6, H9 and H10 had low survival rates <15%) and there was no survival on plants carrying gene H13. Genes H1 and H2 allowed the highest levels of larval survival and plants with genes H7 and H8 showed intermediate levels of survival. The authors concluded that resistance genes that allow avirulent genotypes of M. destructor to survive on resistant plants should be used to reduce selection for biotype development.

Genetic mapping of wheat is progressing with recent discoveries by Stuart et al. (1998) of a molecular genetic marker linked to the avirulence gene (vH6) and by Zantoko and Shukle (1999) of a sequence tagged site linked to the locus controlling virulence to the resistance gene H13.

Chemical Control

Due to the variable regulations around (de-)registration of pesticides, we are for the moment not including any specific chemical control recommendations. For further information, we recommend you visit the following resources:

Integrated Pest Management

In North America, M. destructor attack on wheat has been limited by IPM. This has relied mainly on plant breeding for host-plant resistance, combined with clean cultivation, good management of volunteer wheat and delayed sowing in autumn to escape infestation of overwintering crops (Davidson and Lyon, 1987; Pfadt, 1985). Safe 'fly-free' dates have been calculated, ranging from mid-September in the Canadian wheat belt and the northern USA to late October in the southern USA. Sowing as soon as possible after these dates ensures that young plants establish after the autumn generation of females has died out. In addition, destruction of volunteer wheat and infested stubble by ploughing-in and discing soon after harvest prevents adult emergence and reduces the availability of young tillers and seedlings for oviposition by the autumn generation.
M. destructor has been a major pest of wheat in the USA ever since its accidental introduction from Europe and there have been many damaging outbreaks, some of which are chronicled by Barnes (1956). Yield losses in Indiana alone, over the period 1929-36, averaged 2 million bushels per year, and similar losses occurred in other states. In Georgia, USA, there was a severe outbreak on winter barley in 1988-89 (Buntin and Raymer, 1992) and M. destructor also caused substantial reduction of forage production from winter wheat (Buntin and Raymer, 1989). Pfadt (1985) records that losses in the USA have gradually decreased as resistant varieties have become available. In 1945, which was the last year of general distribution of susceptible wheat varieties, the overall loss was about $37 million compared with average losses of about $16 million per year in the 1980s.

Skuhravá et al. (1984) reviewed outbreaks of M. destructor and other gall midge pests of cereals in Europe. They noted that M. destructor was an important pest of wheat in the Soviet Union and Poland after 1918 but decreased after 1940. By 1970 it had practically disappeared from central Europe but continued to be an important pest of wheat in the southern European parts of the USSR, the east Mediterranean, the Transcaucasian region and Soviet Middle East and in Siberia.

A recent assessment of crop loss to this pest in Badajoz, Spain, recorded reduction of grain yields by 14-35% (Moral et al., 1994) and field trials in Morocco in 1987-89 recorded a yield loss of 38% (Amri et al., 1992).
Related treatment support
External factsheets
Pennsylvania State University Insect Pest Fact Sheets, The Pennsylvania State University, 2000, English language
CIMMYT Plant Pest and Disease Factsheets, Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maiz y Trigo (CIMMYT) (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), English language
Department of Agriculture Western Australia Factsheets, Government of Western Australia, 2006, English language
Plant Health Australia Factsheets, Plant Health Australia, English language
Kentucky IPM Scout Info Factsheets, University of Kentucky, 2005, English language
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