It's all about bugs.

Research instilled in me a passion for exploration and Science. I believe that Science is FUN and that the scientific method can be applied to our daily lives. My research interests are connected to insects, how they behave, how they interact with plants and how we can find a way to protect crops from them. Only 1-3 % of all insect species (more than 1 million described) are considered pests. As part of my studies and work experience, I worked for developing technologies to lower insect pest population levels below economic thresholds.

My work falls under the field of Agricultural Entomology and is mostly applied. I have experience in developing cold storage technologies for use in insect mass rearing programs, in-vitro rearing techniques for entomophagous insects, and quality control protocols. I am interested in developing innovative control strategies that are environmentally friendly, especially through the use of Integrated Pest Management. I enjoy working on spatial ecology of insect pests and developing in-field monitoring systems.

One of my favourites quotes: "Although man's sway is dominant in all parts of the Earth, there is considerable evidence that insects are the most characteristic form of life of the present age".

Research topics

Biological Control


I worked in both classical and augmentative Biological Control programs. I participated into a campaign against the exotic Chinese gall wasp (Dryocosmus kuriphilus) that encompassed field releases of the parasitoid Torymus sinensis, introduced in Italy from East Asia. I also investigated the effectiveness of the multicolored Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis) in controlling aphid populations in open fields and greenhouses while, at the same time, studying the causes of its invasiveness, including thermal biology, intraguild competition with native coccinellid species and insecticide resistance. For many years, I worked with tachinid flies (Exorista larvarum) as biological control agents of lepidopterans defoliators. I verified host acceptance and suitability to establish possible new associations with accidentally introduced pests.

Insect Mass Rearing


The pest management industry is increasingly demanding efficient mass rearing techniques that provide high-quality and cost-effective insect productions for use in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs. As part of Industry-funded research, I worked to develop artificial diets for the rearing of predators and artificial media for the rearing of endoparasitoids (in-vitro rearing) without using host components. We successfully developed a pork liver diet for the rearing of aphidophagous ladybugs, a skimmed milk and chicken egg yolk based media for the raring of tachinid flies out of host and an artificial diet for the rearing of the greater wax moth (Galleria mellonella). I also developed efficient cold storage technologies, for delaying insect development with minimal impacts on quality, for biological contol agents and fruit flies (Bactrocera tryoni).

Sterile Insect Technique (SIT)


The environmentally sustainable SIT is being applied worldwide against several major insect pests, including screwworms, fruit flies, moths and mosquitoes. With SIT, massive numbers of high-quality male insects are sterilised, commonly through irradiation, and released into the field to induce reproductive failure in females of wild populations. I worked for improving fruit fly SIT in Australia. From mass rearing techniques to quality control, shipment protocols, release methods and post-release monitoring, I performed research within the framework of the long-term strategic research and development partnership SITplus. I researched how stressors experienced by fruit flies (Bactrocera tryoni) during SIT operations can impact the ultimate male quality at the point of release, including hypoxia, irradiation, vibration, cold and hot temperatures.

Insect Monitoring


Insect monitoring is essential to gain a good understanding of insect presence and activity in crops and to assess the severity of their damages in case of outbreaks. I took part of a monitoring program for early detection of the accidentally introduced Western corn rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera) in Italian corn fields by using yellow sticky traps activated by pheromones. I monitored the establishment of introduced parasitoids in chestnut ecosystems to verify the success of a biological control camping releasing Torymus sinensis. I also took part in extensive field experiments for the Queensland fruit fly (Bactrocera tryoni), assessing the effectiveness of pre-release diet supplements, holding period and marking dyes through dispersal and survival data obtained from sticky traps and cue-lure traps.

Publications

           

 

 

   
Wait a minute... flies can live inside moths?
Read my article on The Tachinid Times - Issue 32.

Conferences

  • 2019: Biology of Tephritid Fruit Flies Meeting, Goulburn Valley, Shepparton (Australia), 28th-29th May. Talk title: "Response of Queensland fruit fly to post-production stressors: effects of hypoxia, irradiation and vibration on adult quality".
 
  • 2018: 10th International Symposium on Fruit Fly of Economic Importance (ISFFEI), Tapachula, Chiapas (Mexico), 23-27 April. Poster title: "Pre-release diet supplements affect survival and dispersal of Queensland fruit fly in the field".
 
  • 2018: Biology of Tephritid Fruit Flies Meeting, CSIRO Black Mountain, Canberra (Australia), 6-7th March. Talk title: "Use of cold storage to assist large-scale production of Queensland fruit fly".
 
  • 2017: European PhD Network "Insect Science" VIII Annual Meeting, Centro Congressi Federico II, Naples (Italy), 15th-16th November. Talk title: "Effect of short-term suboptimal temperature storage to assist large-scale production of two dipterans".
 
  • 2017: Third FAO–IAEA International Conference on Area-wide Management of Insect Pests: Integrating the Sterile Insect and Related Nuclear and Other Techniques, Vienna International Centre (VIC), Vienna (Austria), 22nd-26th May. Poster title: "Cold storage of Queensland fruit fly pupae for mass-rearing programs".
 
  • 2016: Biology of Tephritid Fruit Flies Meeting, Centre for AgriBioscience (AgriBio), Melbourne (Australia), 1st December. Talk title: "Cold storage for Queensland fruit fly mass-rearing programs".
 
  • 2016: Opening of the new SITplus mass rearing facility, Port Augusta (Australia), November. Poster title: "Cold storage of Queensland fruit fly eggs and pupae for mass-rearing programs".
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  • 2016: First Symposium of Tephritid Workers of Asia, Australia and Oceania (TAAO 2016), 15th-18th August, Putrajaya (Malaysia). Poster title: "Cold storage of Queensland fruit fly eggs for mass-rearing programs".
 
  • 2016: HDR Conference 2016, Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia), 15th-16th June. Talk title: "Using cold storage technology to assist mass production of Bactrocera tryoni (Diptera: Tephritidae)".
 
  • 2015: Forth International Entomophagous Insects Conference (IEIC4), Torre del Mar (Spain), 4th-9th October. Poster title: "Effects of short-term storage at low temperature on egg viability and in vitro development of the parasitoid Exorista larvarum (Diptera Tachinidae)".
 
  • 2015: DipSA Innova 2015, School of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, Bologna (Italy), 2nd July. Poster title: "Innovative mass rearing techniques of Exorista larvarum, a parasitoid of lepidopterous defoliators".
 
  • 2015: Royal Entomological Society Postgraduates Forum, School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London (UK), 16th-17th February. Talk title: "Laboratory studies on Harmonia axyridis (Pallas) in Italy and the UK".
Maurizio Benelli