Pitting Good Mites Against Bad Mites

— Written By

Steven Bradley | Southeast Farm Press | 11/18/2018

An entomologist at Clemson University’s Coastal Research and Education Center has been awarded a prestigious fellowship to further her work in understanding how predatory mites can be used to protect South Carolina crops from pests.

The research could lead to a reduction in pesticide use and increased production for South Carolina farmers.

Monica Farfan is studying ways to encourage good, predatory mites, such as phytoseiid mites, to kill pest mites, such as the twospotted spider mite. But first Farfan must learn about the genetic variations and feeding habits of the good mites in an effort to increase their abundance in agricultural ecosystems.

Close-up view of two-spotted spider mites (Tetranychus urticae) on corn

Frank Peairs, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Farfan’s study is the first of its kind in the U.S. and earned her one of 101 National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) grants that support graduate and postgraduate education in agricultural-related disciplines.

“The twospotted spider mite is a gigantic pest in almost every cropping system you can imagine, from orchard fruit to row crops to veggies,” Farfan said.

Since March, Farfan has been working with assistant professor Rebecca Schmidt-Jeffris in the Vegetable Entomology Lab at the Coastal REC studying how predator-prey dynamics change with food resources and how these dynamics might benefit the two largest specialty vegetable crops in South Carolina: tomatoes and watermelons.

“Natural enemies in vegetable systems have not been as well studied as those in perennial systems, primarily because perennial crops, like fruit trees, are a more permanent habitat, making it easier to get natural enemy populations established and build from year to year,” Schmidt-Jeffris said. “Additionally, it’s more difficult to rely on biological control in the Southeast because our pest pressure is very high. In terms of basic biology research, this means that we’re really pushing boundaries of knowledge by learning about the biodiversity of natural enemies in our vegetable systems in South Carolina.”

Continue reading