- Author: Kirsten Ann Pearsons
We are getting to the time of year where lettuce production winds down in the Salinas Valley and ramps up in the desert around Yuma, Arizona. Unlike in the Salinas Valley, the desert has not been hit as hard by Impaciens necrotic spot virus (INSV), the virus that is transmitted to lettuce by Western flower thrips (F. occidentalis). When the virus does show up in the desert, the primary infection can often be traced back to INSV-infected thrips that arrived on vegetable transplants from coastal California (Palumbo, 2022)
These finding stirred up concern in the local ag community – could vegetable transplants also be a significant source of new INSV infections in the Salinas Valley? There are instances where recently transplanted fields start showing INSV symptoms soon after planting (Figure 1), but it is challenging to nail down if they were infected before or after transplanting. After gaining some advice from John Palumbo of the University of Arizona (who has been spearheading the ISNV work in the desert), I set out to sample thrips from local transplant nurseries.
Hypothesis: Vegetable transplants are NOT a major source of INSV-infected thrips in the Salinas Valley. Although this hypothesis may seem contrary to the findings from Yuma, it all comes down to timing of transplant production and background levels of thrips and INSV. As summarized in Figure 2, weekly thrips activity is low in spring and early summer but high in late summer and early spring. [check out an interactive version of these data: Salinas Valley Lettuce Pest Mapping Tool]. This difference in activity somewhat corresponds to when transplants are grown for local use (spring and early summer) versus desert use (late summer and fall). Transplants that are sent to Yuma are grown when thrips populations and INSV pressure has been historically high – putting them at higher risk of carrying INSV+ thrips.
Species confirmation and virus testing: I collaborated with Daniel Hasegawa (USDA-ARS) for species confirmation and virus testing. Daniel and his team used a genetic testing method called multiplex RT-qPCR to determine if the adult and larval thrips were 1) Western flower thrips (F. occidentalis), 2) Onion thrips (Thrips tabaci), or 3) some other thrips species AND if the thrips were carrying 1) INSV or 2) Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV, similar to INSV). For small samples (five or fewer thrips), Daniel's team tested each thrips individually. For samples with more than five thrips, they tested half of the thrips as a pooled sample. If this sub-sample tested positive for INSV, a subset of the remaining thrips were tested individually.
Results: From March through May, we only collected 52 thrips, 50 of which were identified as western flower thrips and none which tested positive for INSV or TSWV. In June, collection shot up almost 10-fold and doubled again in July, somewhat tracking the thrips population increase in the valley (Figure 4). In June and July, thrips densities were consistently higher on brassica transplants compared to lettuce transplants (Figure 5).
Despite collecting over 2,000 individual thrips (1,333 adults and 782 larvae), only two samples, or 1.64% of the tested thrips, tested positive for INSV. The two samples which has positive hits for INSV were collected in June, one off or organic broccoli and one off of conventional cauliflower. None of the thrips collected off of lettuce transplants tested positive for INSV.
Preliminary Conclusions: For the Salinas Valley, the thrips populations on transplants appear to mirror the thrips population in the valley. This is perhaps not too surprising since most transplants are grown on uncovered benches near crop fields. Despite lettuce being a better host for Western flowerthrips (Joseph & Koike, 2021), we consistently collected morethrips frombrassica transplants. We attribute this difference to management practices (e.g., insecticide applications on lettuce transplants) and because brassica transplants tend to stay at nurseries for an additional week.
With this in mind, we may expect that transplanted lettuce fields in the Salinas Valley are more likely to be infected by INSV+ thrips coming in from nearby areas (the prior crop, nearby fields, or weedy areas) rather than thrips from transplant nurseries. Although I would expect to find more INSV+ thrips on vegetable transplants in a year with higher INSV incidence (2023 incidence was considerably lower than prior years), the risk of INSV+ thrips coming in from other sources would increase as well.
For the desert, however, the background risk of INSV is much lower because INSV levels drop off over the summer. In this context, even a handful of INSV+ thrips on transplants pose a proportionally greater risk than in the Salinas Valley. Recognizing this risk to growing regions beyond the Salinas Valley, it is important to continue monitoring INSV levels in transplant nurseries and to work with nurseries to minimize the risk of transporting INSV+ thrips.
- Palumbo, JC, 2022. Thrips and INSV Management in Desert Lettuce. University of Arizona VegIPM Update, Vol 13, No 22, Nov 2, 2022. https://acis.cals.arizona.edu/docs/default-source/agricultural-ipm-documents/vegetable-ipm-updates/2022/thrips-and-insv-management-in-desert-lettuce.pdf?sfvrsn=3088b8b9_2
- Joseph, SV, Koike, ST, 2021. Could Broccoli and Cauliflower Influence the Dispersal Dynamics of Western Flower Thrips (Thysanoptera: Thripidae) to Lettuce in the Salinas Valley of California? Environmental Entomology 50, 995–1005. https://doi.org/10.1093/ee/nvab050
Thanks to Daniel Hasegawa and the entire Hasegawa lab (USDA-ARS, Salinas); John Palumbo (University of Arizona); Kevin Costa, Thomas Costa, and Manuel Aguirre (Headstart Nursery); Francisco Castaneda and Omar Saenz (Growers Transplanting); Lupe Guillen, Maria Alfaro, Alejandro Palma-Carias, and Jim Wilkinson (Dole Fresh Vegetables); Jasmine Rodriguez; Luis Ramirez-Espinoza (CSU-MB); and the California Leafy Greens Research Board./table>/span>