Antixenosis and antibiosis as resistance mechanisms of South African sugarcane varieties against early instar larvae of Eldana saccharina Walker (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae)
The complexity of the behaviour of neonate Eldana saccharina Walker (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) larvae and the limited information on their response to the morphological characteristics of South African sugarcane varieties was the primary justification to study antixenotic/antibiotic effects on larval behaviour. Laboratory experiments were conducted with stalk segments in plastic jars inoculated with larvae and in a metal cage covered with gauze. In jars, the larvae were observed until they penetrated the stalks. After 14 days, the stalks were dissected and larvae weighed. In all varieties, larvae moved directly to the node after inoculation and penetrated the stalk through leaf scars and buds. No significant differences in larval mass were observed among varieties. In cage experiments different parts of the node, namely the rind below the wax band; the bud; and the root primordia were tested. There was a clear indication that rind hardness and the budscale properties are associated with varietal resistance and only affect early instars. The experiments were repeated using whole cane plants in a glasshouse. The results were similar to those of laboratory experiments. In the Insect Rearing Unit, scraped waxes from different varieties were incorporated into the diet. Larval masses from different diets showed significant differences among varieties, but they did not conform to the known resistance ratings, as cane varieties N12 and N21 showed high susceptibility, instead of resistance. Dispersal behaviour of neonates shortly after hatching was investigated in 'mobility experiments' conducted on live cane plants. Mobility is important because the more time neonates spend wandering around on the stalk surface or on exposed parts of the plant, the more vulnerable they are to predation and other adverse factors that may reduce their survival. Experiments to test stalk penetration by larvae on the node showed that neonates required a softer food source before attacking the hard nodal parts. Second and third instar larvae were used subsequently to the mortality of all neonates fed on the rind, which in turn resulted in non-significant differences, suggesting that feeding on debris and/or leaves is critical to the survival and penetration of larvae into the sugarcane stalk. Incorporation of the characteristics tested in these experiments aims to reduce the number of larvae that penetrate the stalk and to expose them for longer on the surface where their numbers may be controlled by predators and insecticides. The resistant varieties used in these experiments have high fibre and less sugar, but newer varieties, such as N29 and N33 incorporate both high resistance and high sucrose yield, which are the two key elements for optimised sugar production. Chemical characteristics of the plants need to be taken into consideration as high sucrose is seldom found in fibrous varieties. Leaf sheath tightness is another characteristic that would go well with leaf sheath hairiness, because though not tested in this work-would make it difficult for the larvae to get to the smooth adaxial surface of the leaf. The hardness of trichomes is another feature that needs to be investigated, because a variety may have dense, but soft pubescence that does not repel even the most sensitive larvae, neonates. At present, integrating plant resistance with cultural control, i.e. field hygiene etc. is cost-beneficial for the sugar industry.