Invasive Species Modeling for South American Tomato Leafminer and Groundnut Leafminer


This project develops detailed modeling and simulations environments to study the spread of invasive species to support integrated pest management and quarantine programs. The focus is on tomato and groundnut leafminers, but the underlying approach will be generic and adaptable to other agricultural pests.














Globalization, trade, and subsequent human alteration of the global environment have contributed significantly to increased rates and extent of dispersion of invasive species such as Tuta absoluta, South American Tomato Leafminer, and Aproaerma modicella (simplexella), the Groundnut Leafminer.

There is a necessity to study not only the local interactions of these species with their environments, but also global socio-economic interactions. Our approach uses interaction-based modeling methodology, which considers the following types of interactions that influence population dynamics: host-pathogen environment relations, farmer responses through pest management strategies, and economic relations between countries/regions. Each interaction is modeled separately, then integrated to study the synergistic outcomes of various interactions.

The project also couples this multi-theory, multi-layered model with tools such as genetic variability tests and molecular phylogenetics to better understand the dynamics of invasion by leafminers. This system can provide causal explanations for pest spread, test and assess economic impact of various policies and control measures, forecast and provide early detection, and operate at different spatial and temporal resolutions.

Our highly multi-disciplinary research team has experts from entomology, insect ecology, invasive species modeling, GIS and remote-sensing, complex systems, computer science, social science, agricultural economics, and networks based modeling and simulations. Data collected during the project, modeling methods, and analysis, will be made publicly available through peer-reviewed journals and conferences.

Achievements and Highlights

  • Discovery that trade of infested tomato fruits and seedlings is Tuta absoluta’s mode of spread. 
  • Monitoring and mapping the future spread of Tuta absoluta. 

Current Project Objectives

  • Predicting spread of South American Tomato Leafminer in Africa and Asia, and Groundnut Leafminer in Africa.
  • Identifying possible sources of South American Tomato Leafminer in Africa and Indian sub-continent.
  • Identifying sources of Groundnut Leafminer invasion in Africa.
  • Provide information on countries at high risk of South American Tomato Leafminer in Africa, Indian sub-continent, and Central and North America.
  • Provide information on countries at high risk of Groundnut Leafminer invasion in Africa.
  • Assess potential risk of invasion and inform concerned people for prevention or early detection of invasion, which reduces crop loss and contributes to food security of farmers and traders.
  • Reduce use of broad spectrum pesticides.
  • Analyze effectiveness of alternatives such as crop management and natural enemies.
  • Create modeling approach generic enough to be applicable to any agro-pest scenario.


Abhijin Adiga: Principal Investigator

Senior Research Associate, Biocomplexity Institute (BI)

University of Virginia 

Co-Principal Investigators/Collaborators

Srinivasan Venkatramanan

Postdoctoral Associate, Biocomplexity Institute

University of Virginia

Achla Marathe

Professor, Biocomplexity Institute

University of Virginia

Madhav Marathe

Professor, Biocomplexity Institute

University of Virginia

Nicolas Desneux

Research Scientist, French Nation Institute for Agricultural Research

Thierry Brevault

French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development

Jaap van Kretschmar

Research Scholar, NSF Center for Integrated Pest Management

Godshen Pallipparambil

Senior Researcher, NSF Center for Integrated Pest Management