Emilie Demard is working to control mites and other pests that damage fresh grapefruit growing as citrus under protective screens (CUPS) at the Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce.
“I look at biological control — in this case, predatory mites controlling pest mites to minimize the need for agrochemicals,” said Demard, a Ph.D. entomology graduate with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).
For the last four years, mites have been at the center of Demard’s research. Her work has earned her awards at national entomology meetings and a recent international award.
Overseeing and funding Demard’s research is Jawwad Qureshi, associate professor of entomology and nematology at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee.
“Emilie’s early work to identify natural predators for the control of pest mites in protected production environments contributes to the development of comprehensive IPM (integrated pest management) models to sustain Florida’s most valuable crop,” said Qureshi.
Demard said screenhouse growers want long-term solutions to control mites and protect the quality of their fruit from unsightly damage. “We found two mite species — the citrus rust mites and the citrus red mites inside the protected environment,” she said.
“Rust mites are major pests in screenhouses and are hard to control,” said Demard. “Acaracides such as pyridaben, fenbutatin-oxide or abamectin provide some control of mites inside the houses, but the chemicals should not be a long-term solution since mites will eventually become resistant to pesticides.”
“More than 500 acres of screenhouses are in operation in Florida, with new structures ongoing,” said Arnold Schumann, professor at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred and an early CUPS pioneer in Florida.
One important finding Demard made is that the populations of predatory mites increased in the spring during a flush. The predatory mites use pollen as an alternative food inside CUPS.
“We have not yet discovered effective predatory mites for the citrus rust mite, insects or fungi to control the two pest mites in screenhouses — but so many researchers work on the problem,” said Demard. “I believe we will find an effective management program for screen grapefruit growers to control citrus red and rust mites.”
UF/IFAS researchers will continue her work for analysis of other factors influencing predatory mite populations, such as ground cover management, canopy volume and alternative food.
Source: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
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