Phylloxera, an insect grouped under the phylloxeridae family, is an aphid-like pest of the commercial grapevines globally. The almost microscopic insect related to the aphids is actually described by Powell (2008) as a catastrophic sap-sucking insect feeding on the roots as well as the leaves of grapevines, resulting in serious deformations and fungal infections. While discussing phylloxera, this paper discusses the ecology and management of the pest.
The Ecology of Phylloxera
According to Kindlmann (2010), adult phylloxera is yellow in color and 1mm in length. During summer they are yellow in color and in winter they turn brown. Kindlmann (2010) argues that throughout the year they are found in vineyards and feed on grapevines, where the months of January and February are their peak months. Kindlmann (2010) further states that during springtime, their eggs hatch into Nymphs and that during their development stage they develop in canopies as crawlers. During winter, Kindlmann (2010) argues that they survive by sheltering under vine roots and at times behind the vines vase.
Bennett et.al (2013) argues that as phylloxera feed on the surface of the root, the response of the vine is the formation of galls on the hairs of the root and swelling of those roots that are old. On the hairs of the root, the galls have a characteristic of a hook-shaped form which causes serious damage to plants as it prevents the development of feeder roots. Bennett et.al (2013) further argues that, on roots that are large, the tissues swell hence a preceding decay through infections such as fungal and bacterial attacks. The loss of feeder, as well as the decay of the roots, leads to the death of rootstocks commonly known as Vitis ssp. Some rootstocks may react to phylloxera feeding though not to a greater extent as they have evolved to tolerate phylloxera (Bennett et.al, 2013).
Based on research done by Healey (2011), the first signs of phylloxera infestation include the vines changing their color to yellow. Stunting of growths similarly occurs as the function of the leaf is lost. Within 3 years symptoms appear under conditions that are dry with vine death after either five or six years. Healey (2011) further explains that in the initial stages of infestations, areas that are affected look like oil spots in a spreading pattern since the phylloxera moves to from a vine to the adjacent one. The soil that is sandy, which does not allow crawlers to travel through, often does not facilitate the spread of cracking the clay. According to Healey (2011), what actually help to fight the damage caused by phylloxera are wet seasons as well as the irrigation of vineyards.
Herbert, Hoffman & Powell (2008) also add that without feeding on grapevines, phylloxera can survive for a period of 8 days. Herbert, Hoffman & Powell (2008) argue that the pest is an insect that is soft-bodied, has a body with poor tolerance to heat, and which prefers high humidity. Analysis of the outbreaks of phylloxera in Europe during the 19th century shows that plant materials that had been infested caused the spread of infestations. In addition, as stipulated in the analysis of Herbert, Hoffman & Powell (2008), other significant contributory factors included machinery and equipment that were contaminated as well as contaminated shoes and clothes.
The Management of Phylloxera
Phylloxera was first detected in Australia in 1877, hence the policy to destroy infested vineyards. South Australia, which had not yet received any infected materials within its borders, banned the movement of vine materials in accordance with the act of vine protection, Act of 1884. Since then, however, there have been marked improvements in science hence better ways to manage the pest.
The first way, as suggested by Bostanian, Vincent & Isaac (2012), includes ripping out vines that have been infested using methyl bromide to fumigate the soils and replanting them with rootstocks strains that are resistant to the attacks. This approach actually puts much emphasis on rootstocks that are less resistant hence being less effective over time since lines that are purely resistant become less regular with time, as highlighted by Bostanian, Vincent & Isaac (2012).
On the other hand, The Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia (2008; 2011) additionally argue that the vineyards currently practicing in Australia are optimal for the selection of phylloxera strains that are virulent and are likely to overcome the resistance of the rootstock. According to the board, one way is to replant stocks that are resistant to infestations that might come from those infested. It states that this creates an environment that is optimal for phylloxera colonies that are increasingly stronger and bigger. As demonstrated by the board, soils that are exploitive to plant insects like phylloxera are often seen in vineyards that are more organic than those vineyards that are conventional.
Resistant rootstocks, according to Johnson et.al (2010), are not the only way to control phylloxera. Johnson et.al (2010) argues that using pesticides does not eradicate the population of phylloxera and that the pests can be culturally controlled. Johnson et.al (2010) actually argues that people should avoid rootstocks that have V. viniferous parentage given the selected phylloxera virulent biotypes that destroy the rootstocks. Johnson et.al (2010) suggests that people should use rootstocks that are strongly resistant and with no V. viniferous parentage for protection from phylloxera’s effects. In addition to this, Johnson et.al (2010) advises that people should seek advice from their farm advisor on the latest information regarding rootstock trials and how to protect from the pest.
Phylloxera is indisputably a major threat in agriculture. From the above analysis, it is evident that phylloxera‘s presence in vineyards is unquestionable and the effects on the grapevines devastating. Given the situation, there have been various ways proposed to manage these situations, suggested which include ripping out the infested vines and planting strong rootstocks. Carefully focusing on the management techniques can go a long way toward improving the management of phylloxera.
- Bostanian, N. J., Vincent, C., & Isaacs, R. (2012). Arthropod Management in Vineyards: Pests, Approaches, and future directions. Dordrecht: Springer.
- Bennett et al. (2013). Assessing eradication strategies for rain-splashed and wind-dispersed crop diseases. Pest Management Science, 69, 8, 955-963.
- Gale, G. (2011). Dying on the vine: How phylloxera transformed to wine. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Healey, J. (2011). Sustainable land management. Thirroul, N.S.W: Spinney Press.
- Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia. (2008). Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia. Stepney.
- Powell, K. (2008). “Grape phylloxera: An Overview”. In Root feeders An Ecosystem perspective (Ed Johnson, N & Murray, P). CAB International.
- Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia. (2011). Below ground management for quality and productivity seminar. Sydney: Horticulture Australia.
- Johnson et al. (2010). Biology and management of grape phylloxera. Fayetteville, Ark: Cooperative Extension Service.
- Kindlmann, P. (2010). Aphid biodiversity under environmental change: Patterns and processes. Dordrecht: Springer Science+Business Media.
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