UF/IFAS study shows banker plants can protect greenhouse crops from whiteflies, thrips

 

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Keeping valuable greenhouse crops safe from whiteflies and thrips may become easier for producers, thanks to a new study on banker plants from the University of Florida and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A trend in biological pest control, banker plants provide food and shelter to natural enemies of target pests, giving the enemies a home base so they can provide continuous pest control.

 In a study posted online this week by the journal Biological Control, researchers tested three ornamental pepper varieties as host plants for the well-known predatory mite Amblyseius swirskii. The mite dramatically reduced silverleaf whitefly populations, as well as chilli thrips and Western flower thrips, on greenhouse-raised green bean plants and pepper plants.

 This approach could work for other greenhouse-grown vegetables, fruits, herbs and ornamentals, said Lance Osborne, an entomology professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

 The ornamental peppers tested were Masquerade, Red Missile and Explosive Ember; all performed about equally well, he said.

 “The banker plant seed is commercially available, and so is the mite,” said Osborne, at UF’s Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka. “The peppers are easy to grow. Once they start to flower you put the mites on them and then it’s off to the races.”

 In the study, researchers began by establishing colonies of A. swirskii mites on the ornamental pepper banker plants, and simultaneously infested greenhouse-raised green bean plants with silverleaf whiteflies, chilli thrips or a combination of chilli thrips and Western flower thrips. After banker plants were moved into the greenhouses, the mites were free to disperse to the beans. Two weeks later, overall populations of the silverleaf whitefly were reduced to less than 1 percent of those on control plants; overall thrips populations were reduced to about 5 percent of those on control plants.

 The study was part of a larger banker-plant project funded by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service via its Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative. The research team included Osborne, Cindy McKenzie, a USDA entomologist based in Fort Pierce, and Yingfang Xiao, Pasco Avery and Jianjun Chen of UF/IFAS.

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Contacts

Writer: Tom Nordlie, 352-273-3567, tnordlie@ufl.edu

Source: Lance Osborne, 407-884-2034, ext. 163, lsosborn@ufl.edu

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Adult silverleaf whiteflies congregate on a green bean plant in this photo taken at the Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka, part of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences — Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012. A new UF/IFAS study shows that the destructive pest can be managed in greenhouse cropping systems by using ornamental peppers as banker plants to support populations of the predatory mite Amblyseius swirskii. UF/IFAS photo by Lance Osborne

An ornamental pepper plant stands out amid a sea of poinsettias in this file photo from the University of Florida’s Instituite of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Researchers with UF/IFAS and the USDA are studying the peppers for their efficacy as banker plants to support populations of the predatory mite Amblyseius swirskii, which controls silverleaf whiteflies and thrips in greenhouses. UF/IFAS photo by Chris Fooshee