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Modelling fungal (Neozygites cf. floridana) epizootics in local populations of cassava green mites (Mononychellus tanajoa)
Moraes, G.J. de
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The fungus, Neozygitis cf. floridana is parasitic on the cassava green mite, Mononychellus tanajoa (Bondar) (Acari: Tetranychidae) in South America and may be considered for classical biological control of cassava green mites in Africa, where cassava is an important subsistence crop, cassava green mites are an imported pest and specific natural enemies are lacking. Spider mites generally have a viscous structure of local populations, a trait that would normally hamper the spread of a fungus that is transmitted by the contact of susceptible hosts with the halo of capilliconidia surrounding an infectious host. However, if infected mites search and settle to produce capilliconidia on sites where they are surrounded by susceptible mites before becoming infectious, then the conditions for maximal transmission in a viscous host population are met. Because the ratio between spider mites and the leaf area they occupy is constant, parasite-induced host searching behaviour leads to a constant per capita transmission rate. Hence, the transmission rate only depends on the number of infectious hosts. These assumptions on parasite-induced host search and constant host density lead to a simple, analytically tractable model that can be used to estimate the maximal capacity of the fungus to decimate local populations of the cassava green mite. By estimating the parameters of this model (host density, per capita transmission rate and duration of infected and infectious state) it was shown that the fungal pathogen can reduce the population growth of M. tanajoa, but cannot drive local mite populations to extinction. Only when the initial ratio of infectious to susceptible mites exceeds unity or the effective growth rate of the mite population is sufficiently reduced by other factors than the fungus (e.g. lower food quality of the host plant, dislodgement and death by rain and wind and predation), will the fungal pathogen be capable of decimating the cassava green mite population. Under realistic field conditions, where all of these growth-reducing factors are likely to operate, there may well be room for effective control by the parasitic fungus.