Effect of soil factors on parasitic nematodes of sugarcane in KwaZulu- Natal, South Africa.
Nematicides are not only expensive and unaffordable to small-scale farmers but are also harmful to the environment as they kill both the target organisms and non-target micro and macro-organisms, thereby destabilising the ecosystem. Most developed countries have or are in the process of banning use of chemicals for pest management, implying that agricultural products from developing countries using pesticides will not be marketed in the developed countries. In former studies, it was shown that plant parasitic nematodes posed serious problems in sugarcane fields as their attacks on sett roots during germination period decreased sett root weights, delayed bud germination or led to fewer buds germinating as most buds abort. Those that germinate later are then faced with competition for food, space and light from the "older" shoots and often die. The attacks on shoot roots may lead to inefficient uptake of water and nutrients by the plant thereby leading to stunted plants. Fewer and shorter sugarcane stalks due to nematode attacks result in poor yield. In this study, it has been shown that a large number of endoparasites would be needed to reduce sett root weights. Agricultural systems based on monoculture are rarely successful in the long term and because sugarcane fields have been monocultured for a very long time, they are losing their productive capacity and this is termed "Yield Decline". Instead of using nematicides, alternative methods can be used for the management of nematode communities. Research has shown on other plants that nematode communities dominated by Helicotylenchus dihystera are less pathogenic to the plants than other ectoparasitic nematodes, e.g., Xiphinema elongatum and Paratrichodorus spp. A study conducted as a pot experiment showed that sugarcane grown in soil with high H. dihystera grew taller and produced greater root and aerial biomass than one grown in X elongatum infested soil. To induce a nematode community dominated by H. dihystera in the field, two strategies were followed: (i ) abiotic factors that influence the nematode's environment were identified. Certain elements found in soil and sugarcane leaves were found to be correlated to certain species, e.g., H. dihystera was negatively correlated to soil sulphur, medium and coarse sand while X elongatum was positively correlated to these soil types and soil elements. Sugarcane leaves with high levels of Ca, Zn, Cu and Fe were found in areas with high percentages of H. dihystera while the reverse was true for X elongatum. (ii) organic amendments were used to improve the sugarcane growth, modify the environment and decrease competition among species within a community. Application of organic matter to the soil improves soil properties such as water infiltration, water holding capacity, erodibility and nutrient cycling, increases suppressiveness of soils to plant parasitic nematodes and stimulates other anti-nematode micro-organisms, e.g., nematode-trapping fungi. Organic amendments were therefore used in this study not only as screens to protect sugarcane roots from nematode attacks but also to manipulate nematode communities for the less pathogenic species, H. dihystera. In a field study where organic amendments were used, plots treated with filter cake, thume + filter cake, trash + filter cake, filter cake + furfural and Temik (aldicarb) had high percentages of H. dihystera while control plots had high percentages of X elongatum. However, the change in relative proportion of H. dihystera by certain treatments was not followed by an average increase in yield, probability because of the overall variability. The yield results, however, showed that for all treatments, including control, the highest yields corresponded to plots with higher H. dihystera proportions, conflicting the initial hypothesis. As a result, if an organic amendment that can substantially increase the relative proportions of H. dihystera can be found, a substantial increase in yield can be expected. Although the organic amendments did not successfully manipulate the nematode communities for the less pathogenic species, H. dihystera, plots with higher yield were those that had high H. dihystera percentages in their nematode communities.