Inter-species horizontal toxicity: Experimental control of Argentine ants and their citrophilus mealybug mutualists in a viticultural system
The invasive Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, is known to form a trophobiotic association with honeydew excreting homopterans Pseudococcus sp. providing protection from natural enemies in exchange for the honeydew they excrete. The vine mealybug Pseudococcus calceolariae, can transmit Grapevine leafroll- associated virus 3 (GLRaV-3) between vines as it travels and feeds with the ensuing leafroll disease negatively impacting on vine health and wine quality. Therefore, if an effective chemical control method targeting incursions of Argentine ants in vineyards contributes to the dissociation of this invasive ant species with its citrophilus mealybug mutualist, then in theory the spread of GLRaV-3 in vineyards by its mealybug vector can be stemmed. Three insecticidal treatments targeting Argentine ants in the canopy of potted Pinot Noir grapevines inoculated with citrophilus mealybugs were trialled at a field site established in Nelson during the summer of 2016/2017. Bifenthrin (1200ppm) was sprayed on vine trunks and the low- toxicity baits, thiamethoxam (0.0006%) or boric acid (0.5%) carried in polyacrylamide gel with 25% sucrose and 0.15% citric acid solution, were placed at the base of vines. A significant decline in ant activity (p < 0.001) and citrophilus mealybugs was observed for the bifenthrin treatment. A follow-on bioassay was conducted at Mt. Albert Plant and Food Research, in the absence of P. calceolariae’s natural enemies to test the hypothesis that the decline in citrophilus mealybugs in response to vines treated with bifenthrin, could in fact be due to inter-species horizontal toxicity because of Argentine ants transferring the toxicant bifenthrin to citrophilus mealybugs while tending them or contaminating the substrate that they fed on. The significant decrease in average citrophilus mealybug activity rate (p < 0.001) for bifenthrin treatments compared with the controls provides evidence for inter-species horizontal toxicity. Bifenthrin sprayed on grapevine trunks may be suitable to control Argentine ants in the vine canopy and indirectly control P. calceolariae, a known vector of GLRaV-3 between grapevine hosts. The concept of inter-species horizontal toxicity could become a model for targeted pest management by exploiting different insect mutualisms in various horticultural cropping systems.