Recent research from Purdue University indicates that using small quantities of nicotinoid pesticide can significantly weaken termites' ability to defend against fungal diseases, which may help scientists develop more-efficient pest-control methods.
In addition, the study shows that nicotinoid, the pesticide most commonly used to protect soybean and corn seeds against pests, also impacts the social instincts of termites, which may also help scientists create better pest controls.
Termites live in damp underground environments and in small areas, densely packed among thousands of other termites, but they rarely contract illnesses. They have more than the usual disease-defense genes found in all insects. Termites also have non-genetic methods for protecting themselves.
Using a sub-lethal dose of imiadcloprid weakened the crucial microbes located in the gut of termites and repressed the termites’ social hygiene habits, which help colonies stay healthy. These changes resulted in weakened defenses, and soon the termites grew vulnerable, even becoming susceptible to a fungal virus that typically does not impact them. The laboratory colonies used in the experiments were completely eliminated in just seven days.
"A termite colony can tolerate this dose of imidacloprid and fungal pathogen independently, but put them together, and they really have deleterious effects," Michael Scharf, the O.W. Rollins/Orkin Chair and a professor of entomology who led the Purdue research team, said. "Understanding how to cripple termite defenses could lead us to new, safer control technologies."
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