dr.ir. GJ (Gerben) Messelink

dr.ir. GJ (Gerben) Messelink

Special professor Biological Pest Control in Greenhouse Productions Systems and senior research entomologist

Research Mission

Biological pest control is one my greatest passions. It is absolutely fascinating see how pests can be completely suppressed by the use of natural enemies such as predatory mites, predatory bugs, predatory beetles, parasitic wasps, predatory midges, lacewings and hoverflies. The huge diversity of insects and mites is something that continues to amaze me, and I am convinced that the possibilities for biological control are far from exhausted. Together with my colleagues and students we try to improve the possibilities for biological control of pests in greenhouses and contribute to the reduction of the use of chemical pesticides. My work can be summarized in 5 themes:

1) New natural enemies

A large part of my work is focusing on the selection and evaluation of new natural enemies. This has contributed to the availability of many new species for biological control, such as the predatory mites Amblyseius swirsii [1, 2] and Macrocheles robustulus [3], the parasitoid Aphidius matricariae [4], mirid predatory bugs [5, 6] and the chess board ladybird schaakbordlieveheersbeestje Propylea quatuordecimpunctata (beautiful!). Not only in the Netherlands, but also internationally I am involved in projects aimed at selecting and evaluating new natural enemies for biological control in Africa, the Middle East and China.

2) Standing army

Over the years I have become increasingly convinced that biological control is much more than simply releasing natural enemies in a cropping system, but that it is actually all about ecosystem management. Natural enemies need alternative food sources, prey, hosts, shelters and oviposition sites to establish populations. The best pest control is often achieved with a preventively released and established populations of natural enemies ready to control emerging pests, the so-called standing army. Together with fellow researchers, we have summarized our vision of this approach in an opinion paper [7]. We studied the role of supplemental or alternative food sources in several projects, such as the use of pollen [8], moth eggs [9], shrimp cysts [10] or prey mites [11, 12]. Providing supplemental food to natural enemies has now become a common practice in many greenhouse crops.

3) Food web interactions

More natural enemies also means more interactions among species. These interactions can affect pest control in an infinite number of ways [13]. For example, predatory mites can seriously disrupt the control of aphids with predatory midges by feeding on the eggs of the predatory midge

[14], or parasitic wasps can be parasitized by hyperparasitoids [15], but synergistic interactions can also occur through natural enemy complementarity. For example, parasitic wasps and lacewings can complement each other by feeding on aphids at different positions in the plant [16], or generalist predatory bugs by having a different preference for pests [17]. The diversity of pests can sometimes have positive effects on control, because mixed pest diets improve the development of their predators [18, 19]. Enhancing biological control through complementarity of natural enemies is an important theme in much of my current research.

4) IPM

Biological control is often part of a total system with additional methods of control, also called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). For example, by using entomopathogenic microorganisms [20] or by including (induced) resistance [21]. It is important to consider the possible effects on biological pest control when integrating different control methods. Ultimately, everything intertwines in greenhouse cultivations and a holistic approach is necessary to achieve pest control solutions (see tetrahedron Kruidhof) [22]. In many of our projects we try to look at this total system and we investigate the influence of, for example, the cultivation substrate, climate, lighting and crop structures on pest control.

5) Biodiversity

More recently, our work has focused on the role of biodiversity in and around greenhouses in pest management. I think there are great opportunities to utilize biodiversity around greenhouses for pest control in greenhouses. For example, many caterpillars can be spontaneously parasitized by parasitic wasps that are not commercially available, often because they are difficult to mass produce. This applies to several types of natural enemies, such as spiders and predatory flies. This spontaneous contribution of nature to pest control is an ecosystem service that can be further developed through the development of functional biodiversity. Obviously, we need to consider the potential risks of an increased influx of pest as well.


1. Messelink, G., S.v. Steenpaal, and W.v. Wensveen, Typhlodromips swirskii (Athias-Henriot) (Acari: Phytoseiidae): a new predator for thrips control in greenhouse cucumber. IOBC/WPRS Bulletin, 2005. 28(1): p. 183-186.

2. Messelink, G.J., S.E.F. Van Steenpaal, and P.M.J. Ramakers, Evaluation of phytoseiid predators for control of western flower thrips on greenhouse cucumber. BioControl, 2006. 51(6): p. 753-768.

3. Messelink, G. and R. van Holstein-Saj, Improving thrips control by the soil-dwelling predatory mite Macrocheles robustulus (Berlese). IOBC/WPRS Bulletin, 2008. 32: p. 135-138.

4. Schelt, J.v., H. Hoogerbrugge, N. Becker, G. Messelink, and K. Bolckmans, Comparing Aphidius colemani and Aphidius matricariae on Myzus persicae ssp. nicotianae in sweet pepper. IOBC/wprs, 2011. 68: p. 169-172.

5. Messelink, G.J., C.M.J. Bloemhard, H. Hoogerbrugge, J. van Schelt, B.L. Ingegno, and L. Tavella, Evaluation of mirid predatory bugs and release strategy for aphid control in sweet pepper. Journal of Applied Entomology, 2015. 139(5): p. 333-341.

6. Ingegno, B.L., G.J. Messelink, N. Bodino, A. Iliadou, L. Driss, J.B. Woelke, A. Leman, and L. Tavella, Functional response of the mirid predators Dicyphus bolivari and Dicyphus errans and their efficacy as biological control agents of Tuta absoluta on tomato. Journal of Pest Science, 2019. 92(4): p. 1457-1466.

7. Messelink, G.J., J. Bennison, O. Alomar, B.L. Ingegno, L. Tavella, L. Shipp, E. Palevsky, and F.L. Wäckers, Approaches to conserving natural enemy populations in greenhouse crops: current methods and future prospects. BioControl, 2014. 59(4): p. 377-393.

8. Leman, A. and G.J. Messelink, Supplemental food that supports both predator and pest: A risk for biological control? Experimental and Applied Acarology, 2015. 65(4): p. 511-524.

9. Messelink, G.J., R. Vijverberg, A. Leman, and A. Janssen, Biological control of mealybugs with lacewing larvae is affected by the presence and type of supplemental prey. Biocontrol, 2016. 61(5): p. 555-565.

10. Messelink, G.J., A. Leman, R. van Holstein-Saj, R. van Tol, R. Vijverberg, C. Elfferich, L. Catalá Senent, T. Huang, K. Shresta, and H.M. Kruidhof, Nieuwe mogelijkheden voor de bestrijding van trips in de sierteelt onder glas. 2019, Wageningen University & Research: Bleiswijk. p. 88.

11. Pirayeshfar, F., S.A. Safavi, H.R. Sarraf Moayeri, and G.J. Messelink, The potential of highly nutritious frozen stages of Tyrophagus putrescentiae as a supplemental food source for the predatory mite Amblyseius swirskii. Biocontrol Science and Technology, 2020. 30(5): p. 403-417.

12. Grosman, A., G. Messelink, and E.d. Groot, Combined use of a mulch layer and the soil-dwelling predatory mite Macrocheles robustulus (Berlese) enhance the biological control of sciarids in potted plants. IOBC/WPRS Bulletin, 2011. 68: p. 51-54.

13. Messelink, G.J., M.W. Sabelis, and A. Janssen, Generalist predators, food web complexities and biological pest control in greenhouse crops, in Integrated pest management and pest control - current and future tactics, M.L. Larramendy and S. Soloneski, Editors. 2012, InTech: Rijeka. p. 191-214.

14. Messelink, G.J., C.M.J. Bloemhard, J.A. Cortes, M.W. Sabelis, and A. Janssen, Hyperpredation by generalist predatory mites disrupts biological control of aphids by the aphidophagous gall midge Aphidoletes aphidimyza. Biological Control, 2011. 57(3): p. 246-252.

15. Bloemhard, C.M.J., M. van der Wielen, and G.J. Messelink, Seasonal abundance of aphid hyperparasitoids in organic greenhouse crops in the Netherlands. IOBC-WPRS Bulletin, 2014. 102: p. 15-19.

16. Rocca, M. and G.J. Messelink, Combining lacewings and parasitoids for biological control of foxglove aphids in sweet pepper. Journal of Applied Entomology, 2017. 141(5): p. 402-410.

17. Messelink, G.J. and A. Janssen, Increased control of thrips and aphids in greenhouses with two species of generalist predatory bugs involved in intraguild predation. Biological Control, 2014. 79(0): p. 1-7.

18. Messelink, G.J., R. van Maanen, S.E.F. van Steenpaal, and A. Janssen, Biological control of thrips and whiteflies by a shared predator: Two pests are better than one. Biological Control, 2008. 44(3): p. 372-379.

19. Messelink, G.J., R. Van Maanen, R. Van Holstein-Saj, M.W. Sabelis, and A. Janssen, Pest species diversity enhances control of spider mites and whiteflies by a generalist phytoseiid predator. BioControl, 2010. 55(3): p. 387-398.

20. Gonzalez, F., C. Tkaczuk, M.M. Dinu, Z. Fiedler, S. Vidal, E. Zchori-Fein, and G.J. Messelink, New opportunities for the integration of microorganisms into biological pest control systems in greenhouse crops. Journal of Pest Science, 2016. 89(2): p. 295-311.

21. Pappas, M.L., C. Broekgaarden, G.D. Broufas, M.R. Kant, G.J. Messelink, A. Steppuhn, F. Wäckers, and N.M. van Dam, Induced plant defences in biological control of arthropod pests: a double-edged sword. Pest Management Science, 2017. 73(9): p. 1780-1788.

22. Messelink, G.J. and H.M. Kruidhof, Advances in pest and disease management in greenhouse cultivation, in Achieving sustainable greenhouse cultivation, L. Marcelis and E. Heuvelink, Editors. 2019, Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing Limited: Cambridge. p. 311-356.