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Virus vector aphid ecology and epidemiology in the potato crop

Photograph of a Nymph of Metopolphium dirhodium aphid
Developing molecular diagnostics techniques to detect virus in aphids.

Background and rationale

Sustainable management of aphid vectors of potato viruses is important for the propagation of classified potato seed. Aphids are the major vectors of many viruses including potato leafroll virus (PLRV), potato virus A (PVA) and potato virus Y (PVY).  Although the peach-potato aphid, Myzus persicae, is one of the most efficient vectors, it is often not the most numerous species. The cereal aphids Rhopalosiphum padi, and Metopolophium dirhodum have been shown by experimental methods to be less efficient than M. persicae in spreading PVY, yet they can be far more prevalent in fields. The ecology of these colonising and non-colonising species drives the relative importance of their pest status. The rose grain aphid overwinters as eggs on roses before it moves to cereals in the spring and summer. In some seasons it can be one of the most abundant aphids (see graph). Determining from when and where the greatest threat of transmitting aphids originate is particularly useful information for targeting control methods.

Aims and scope of the project

The projects aim to develop molecular diagnostics for detecting PVA and PVY virus particles in aphids. The techniques will be used to examine field collected aphid specimens from experimental and agricultural study sites.


Yellow bowl traps (YBT) are used extensively in the field to record aphids flying onto potato crops in order to plan the timing of insecticide application and assess risk of virus transmission. The traps contain water and 0.1% detergent to limit aphids escaping the water surface. They are serviced weekly. The virus risk is calculated by multiplying the number of aphids from each species by a virus efficiency factor.  These traps also represent an opportunity to monitor the actual frequency of virus carrying aphids flying onto potato crops using molecular-based diagnostic probes.

Image of a graph showing Rose grain aphid Numbers (1984 - 2011)

Figure: Graph showing Rose grain aphid Numbers (1984 - 2011)


Insecticide resistance profiles can be misleading in predicting survival of Myzus persicae genotypes on potato crops following application of different insecticide classes. van Toor, Malloch, Anderson, Dawson and Fenton (2012). Pest Management Science. (in press)

A PDF file version of this page can be downloaded here for reference purposes.

Staff involved in the research:

Brian Fenton and Gaynor Malloch (James Hutton Institute) and Ron Van Toor (Plant and Food Research, New Zealand). Dates: 2009-2012

Please contact Gaynor Malloch at the James Hutton Institute for more information about the research.



This research is funded by the EU and the Potato Council

Image of the EU logo
Image of the Potato Council logo


Areas of Interest

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.