Simulation tools for Pest Risk analysis accounting for Ecological and Anthropogenic Drivers (SPREAD) is a multi-scale, interaction-based framework for studying the expansion of invasive species that threaten global food security.

adult tuta absoluta moth


Invasive species pose a mounting threat to native ecosystems around the world, causing severe disruptions to public health, food security, and economic stability. To meet this challenge, the Biocomplexity Institute has partnered with global research agencies to develop SPREAD.

This unique toolset will be capable of modeling a host of complex factors that contribute to the expansion of agricultural pests and pathogens: biology, climate, trade, travel, supply chains, and farming practices. 


The SPREAD project is supported by a grant from the IPM Innovation Lab funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Cooperative Agreement No. AID-OAA-L-15-00001.

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SPREAD is currently being developed to study the dynamics of two major agricultural pests:

South American Tomato Leafminer
Tuta absoluta 

  • This devastating tomato pest is a native to South America and has spread throughout the Mediterranean, Europe and parts of Asia.
  • The tomato leafminer can cause up to 100% loss in crop yields if no control measures are taken.
  • This insect is known to survive well in greenhouse conditions, and has been found in tomato shipping containers, indicating that human activities are a major factor driving its expansion.
  • Though particularly harmful to tomatoes, this pest can also infest other Solanaceae crops such as potatoes, eggplants, peppers, and chili.
  • The main control measure is through insecticides, though effectiveness is limited by the insect's capacity to develop chemical resistances.

Groundnut Leafminer
Aproaerema modicella (simplexella)

  • Aproaerema modicella, which has been prevalent in South and Southeast Asia for generations, is known for causing serious damage to groundnut, soybean and pigeonpea crops.
  • More recently, groundnut leafminer infestation has been reported in parts of southern and eastern Africa.
  • However, recent literature has highlighted the possibility that the South African infestation belongs to an Australian leafminer strain, Aproaerema simplexella, thus raising major questions in the research community relating to species identity and global spread dynamics.

For additional information on the groundnut leafminer, we recommend exploring these research articles.


  • Abhijin Adiga (PI), Research Assistant Professor, Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech and Computer Science
  • Madhav Marathe, Professor and Director, Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech and Computer Science
  • Stephen Eubank, Professor and Deputy Director, Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech and Population Health Sciences
  • Achla Marathe, Professor, Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech and Agricultural and Applied Economics
  • Srinivasan Venkatramanan, Postdoctoral Associate, Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech
  • Nicolas Desneux, Research Scientist & Academic/Associate Editor, French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), France
  • R. Asokan, Principal Scientist, Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR), India
  • V. Sridhar, Principal Scientist, IIHR, India
  • R. Venugopalan, Principal Scientist, IIHR, India
  • Y. G. Prasad, Director, Agricultural Technology Application Research Institute, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, India
  • Thierry Brévault, Research Entomologist, French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), Senegal


  1. Towards an integrated network-based approach to modeling the dynamics of invasive plant pests. S. Venkatramanan, A. Adiga, A. Marathe, S. Eubank, M. Marathe, and R. Muniappan, DSFEW Workshop, KDD’16. [Poster] [Paper]

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