Citrus trees under attack from Asian citrus psyllid emit a chemical that attracts more psyllids.Greening-infected citrus trees emit a fragrance that invites Asian citrus psyllids, the insect that spreads the disease, to the banquet.
Those are the findings of research team led by Lukasz Stelinski, an assistant entomology professor at the University of Florida's Citrus Research and Extension Center in Lake Alfred, according to a news release.
The work showed that Asian citrus psyllid are more likely to land on infected trees than healthy ones.
The research also showed that citrus trees under attack by Asian citrus psyllid release the same chemical—methyl salicylate—letting others know it's a good place to feed.
Another experiment found that psyllids prefer healthy trees over the weakened, infected trees.
When they land and begin feeding on infected trees, they'll often move to healthy ones, given the choice.
"We believe they [infected trees] don't taste right to the psyllids," Stelinski said in the release.
But even a brief feeding period may be long enough for the psyllids to transmit the bacteria that causes citrus greening, also known as huanglongbing or HLB.
The bacteria is harmless to humans and other animals but can be lethal to citrus trees.
The psyllid's pension for methyl salicylate also could help in the greening battle.
The widely available and inexpensive chemical could be used as a lure in monitoring traps or as part of an integrated mating disruption program.
Stelinski says he hopes to pursue those uses in the future.