Progress toward proof of the principal cause of insect mating disruption under a particular set of conditions has been hindered by a lack of logical rigor and clean falsifications of possible explanations. Here we make the case that understanding of mating disruption and optimization of particular formulations can be significantly advanced by rigorous application of the principles of strong inference. To that end, we offer a dichotomous key for eight distinct categories of mating disruption and detail criteria and methodologies for differentiating among them. Mechanisms of mating disruption closely align with those established for enzyme inhibition, falling into two major categories—competitive and noncompetitive. Under competitive disruption, no impairments are experienced by males, females, or the signal of females. Therefore, males can respond to females and traps. Competitive disruption is entirely a numbers game where the ratio of dispensers to females and traps is highly consequential and renders the control pest-density-dependent. Under noncompetitive disruption, males, females, or the signal from females are already impaired when sexual activity commences. The control achieved noncompetitively offers the notable advantage of being pest-density-independent. Dosage—response curves are the best way to distinguish competitive from noncompetitive disruption. Purely competitive disruption produces: a smoothly concave curve when untransformed capture data are plotted on the y-axis against density of dispensers on the x-axis; a straight line with positive slope when the inverse of catch is plotted against density of pheromone dispensers; and, a straight line with negative slope when catch is plotted against density of pheromone dispensers × catch. Disruption operating only noncompetitively produces: a straight line with negative slope when untransformed capture data are plotted on the y-axis against density of dispensers on the x-axis; an upturning curve when the inverse of catch is plotted against density of pheromone dispensers; and, a recurving plot when catch is plotted against density of pheromone dispensers x catch. Hybrid profiles are possible when some males within the population begin the activity period already incapacitated, while those not preexposed have the capacity to respond either to traps or pheromone dispensers. Competitive mechanisms include competitive attraction, induced allopatry, and induced arrestment. Noncompetitive mechanisms include desensitization and inhibition, induced allochrony, suppressed calling and mating, camouflage, and sensory imbalance. Examples of the various disruption types within the two major categories and suggested tactics for differentiating among them are offered as seven case studies of the disruption of important pest species using various formulations are analyzed in depth. We point out how economic optimizations may be achieved once the principal and contributory causes of disruption are proven. Hopefully, these insights will pave the way to a broader and more reliable usage of this environmentally friendly pest management tactic.
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Vol. 44 • No. 3