Resistance may be defined as ‘a heritable change in the sensitivity of a pest population that is reflected in the repeated failure of a product to achieve the expected level of control when used according to the label recommendation for that pest species’. Cross-resistance occurs when resistance to one insecticide confers resistance to another insecticide, even where the insect has not been exposed to the latter product. Clearly, because pest insect populations are usually large in size and they breed quickly, there is always a risk that insecticide resistance may evolve, especially when insecticides are misused or over-used.
Following the introduction of synthetic organic insecticides in the 1940’s, such as DDT, it was not long before the first cases of resistance were detected and by 1947, resistance to DDT was confirmed in houseflies. Thereafter, with every new insecticide introduction, cyclodienes, organophosphates, carbamates, formamidines, pyrethroids, Bacillus thuringiensis, spinosyns andneonicotinoids, cases of resistance appeared some 2 to 20 years after their introduction in a number of key pest species. This phenomenon has been described as the ‘pesticide treadmill’, and the sequence is familiar. As a result of continued applications over time the pest evolves resistance to the insecticide and the resistant strain becomes increasingly difficult to control at the labeled rate and frequency. This in turn has often led to more frequent applications of the insecticide. The intensity of the resistance and the frequency of insecticide-resistant individuals in the population both increase still further and problems of control continue to worsen as yet more product is applied. Eventually users switch to another pesticide if one is available. The genetics of the heritable resistance traits and the intensive repeated application of pesticides, together are responsible for the rapid build-up of resistance in most insects and mites.
Natural selection by an insecticide allows some initially very rare, naturally occurring, pre-adapted insects with resistance genes to survive and pass the resistance trait on to their offspring. Through continued application of insecticides with the same MoA, selection for the resistant individuals continues so the proportion of resistant insects in the population increases, while susceptible individuals are eliminated by the insecticide. Under permanent selection pressure, resistant insects outnumber susceptible ones and the insecticide is no longer effective. The speed with which resistance develops depends on several factors, including how fast the insects reproduce, the migration and host range of the pest, the availability of nearby susceptible populations, the persistence and specificity of the crop protection product, and the rate, timing and number of applications made. Resistance increases fastest in situations such as greenhouses, where insects or mites reproduce quickly, there is little or no immigration of susceptible individuals and the user may spray frequently.
For more information, check out the IRAC Training Modules
- IRAC’s basic Insecticide Resistance Management training module, for those new to IRM.
- IRAC’s IRM training module, for those with some knowledge and that have completed the basic module.
- IRAC’s advanced IRM training module intended for those with a good understanding of resistant management strategies.