Polyethylene mulches have been used since the 1950s to enhance vegetable crop production (Emmert, 1957). The advantages of plastic mulch include earlier crop production, increased yield per unit area, improved fruit quality, more efficient use of nutrients and water, reduced weed competition, and a potential decrease in insect and disease pests (Lamont, 1993). The influence of mulches on plant microclimate and energy balance is a function of transmittance, absorbance, and reflectance of solar radiation (Ham et al., 1993; Lamont, 2005; Tarara, 2000).
Tomato spotted wilt is caused by a virus belonging in the genus Tospovirus and the family Bunyaviridae (Adkins et al., 2009). TSW was originally described in Australia (Brittlebank, 1919) and was first reported in the north Florida/south Georgia growing area in 1986 (Kucharek, 1986). TSWV is transmitted exclusively by thrips (Kirk, 1997). The most important thrips species in the southeastern United States are the western flower thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis Pergande) followed by the tobacco thrips (Frankliniella fusca Hinds) (Chellemi et al., 1994). Growers in northern Florida and southern Georgia have ranked TSW and thrips as their most significant disease and insect pest, respectively (Bauske, 1998). TSW is difficult to control because both the virus and the insect vectors have very broad host ranges (Roselló et al., 1996). Although there are several new tomato cultivars resistant to TSW available to producers, many still prefer to grow TSW-susceptible cultivars because of favorable horticultural traits. Management of TSW by controlling thrips with applications of broad-spectrum insecticides has often failed because thrips require very little time to transmit the virus and insecticidal activity is not fast enough (Brown and Brown, 1992; Nagata et al., 2004).
Host-seeking behavior of thrips can be disrupted by incorporating ultraviolet reflectance, thereby reducing thrips numbers on and around host plants (Brown and Brown, 1992; Kirk, 1997; Kring and Schuster, 1992; Scott et al., 1989; Stavisky et al., 2002). The use of highly ultraviolet-reflective aluminized mulch as a bed covering provides this reflectance to disrupt initial flights of thrips into a field (Brown and Brown, 1992; Kring and Schuster, 1992; Scott et al., 1989). Once plants age, foliage covers the mulch so the reflectance no longer provides flight disruption (Brown and Brown, 1992; Kirk 1997). Díaz-Pérez et al. (2003) showed that vegetative top fresh weight and total fruit yield of tomato were reduced by 2.1% and 2.3%, respectively, for each day before harvest that plants showed TSW symptoms.
Primary infection sites occur when thrips move from infected weed hosts that flower in early spring into tomato fields (Kirk, 1997). This early infection of young plants can produce the most severe symptoms such as stunting, leaf necrosis, and a total loss of marketable fruit (Adkins et al., 2009). Although early TSW infection may produce more symptoms, infection at any stage of plant growth may reduce yield as a result of uneven ripening and unmarketable fruit (Adkins et al., 2009; Momol et al., 2004). Primary infections can also produce a source of inoculum for secondary infections when thrips reproduce on infected plants and emerging infected adults become vectors of the virus (Momol et al., 2004; Roselló et al., 1996).
The objectives of this study were to quantify the impact of polyethylene mulch type (black, metalized, Heat stripe, and Sonoco printed) and insecticide treatment (alternating applications of spinosad and methamidophos) on the incidence of TSW, vegetative growth, yield, and fruit quality of ‘FL-47’ tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) in northern Florida.
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