Life would not only be terribly lonely without communication, our planet would never have been populated. Mating and reproduction are only possible through the exchange of information between different individuals. The biologist Dr. Thomas Schmitt is investigating how chemical communication, an ancient form of dialogue, developed during the evolution of insects. Although at first sight his investigations may appear to be basic research, some of Schmitt’s findings also have the potential for practical application – for example in combating pests in vineyards.
“With our research on communication we are working on a fundamental evolutionary mechanism. This is mainly basic research,” said the scientist. However, the findings of Schmitt and his team over the last few years also have the potential for practical application. In a joint project with the State Viticulture Institute in Freiburg, the researchers are trying to combat the European grape berry moth by using egg parasitoids instead of the already known pheromone confusion method.“In some areas, the pheromone confusion method does not work,” said Thomas Schmitt explaining that in such cases the European grape berry moth is prevented from reproducing by the use of Trichogramma wasps. Trichogramma wasps parasitise the eggs of the European grape berry moth. But how do Trichogramma wasps find and identify the moth eggs? “The eggs release chemical substances which are detected by the Trichogramma wasps,” explains the biologist. However, this only happens during a very restricted time period after the eggs have been laid. “This means that effective monitoring is required in order to find out when the moths fly out to lay their eggs. We have to find the best time to release the Trichogramma.” The researchers have two vineyards at their disposal in order to identify the decisive period of time during which the release of Trichogramma is the most effective and whether the use of this wasp species is at all suitable for practical application. The researchers are supported by the company AMW Nützlinge that provides the wasps for the research project. Thomas Schmitt is convinced that the practical project will provide them with useful information. “The project is extremely interesting in that a more or less academic question has led us to a practical possibility to biologically combat vine pests as well as provided us with an excellent means for studying the complex process of chemical communication in insects.”