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The mortality of Helicoverpa armigera (Hübner) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) neonate larvae in relation to drop-off and soil surface temperature: the dangers of bungy jumping

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The first larval instar has been identified as a critical stage for population mortality in Lepidoptera, yet due to the body size of these larvae, the factors that contribute to mortality under field conditions are still not clear. Dispersal behaviour has been suggested as a significant, but ignored factor contributing to mortality in first-instar lepidopteran larvae. The impact that leaving the host plant has on the mortality rate of Helicoverpa armigera neonates was examined in field crops and laboratory trials. In this study the following are examined: (1) the effects of soil surface temperature, and the level of shade within the crop, on the mortality of neonates on the soil after dropping off from the host plant; (2) the percentage of neonates that dropped off from a host plant and landed on the soil; and (3) the effects of exposure to different soil surface temperatures on the development and mortality of neonates. The findings of this study showed that: (1) on the soil, surface temperatures above 43°C were lethal for neonates, and exposure to these temperatures contributed greatly to the overall mortality rate observed; however, the fate of neonates on the soil varied significantly depending on canopy closure within the crop; (2) at least 15% of neonates dropped off from the host plant and landed on the soil, meaning that the proportion of neonates exposed to these condition is not trivial; and (3) 30 min exposure to soil surface temperatures approaching the lethal level (>43°C) has no significant negative effects on the development and mortality of larvae through to the second instar. Overall leaving the plant through drop-off contributes to first-instar mortality in crops with open canopies; however, survival of neonates that have lost contact with a host plant is possible, and becomes more likely later in the crop growing season.
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Keywords: dispersal; first instars; mortality; silking; spin down

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Queensland Department of Primary Industries & Fisheries, Toowoomba, Qld 4350, Australia. 2: School of Integrative Biology, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia.

Publication date: November 1, 2008

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