The effect of soil depth and exposure to winter conditions on survival of the potato tuberworm, Phthorimaea operculella.
The potato tuberworm, Phthorimaea operculella Zeller (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae), is an important pest of solanaceous crops including potato [Solanum tuberosum L. (Solanaceae)]. Recent evidence of survival of the pest in the Columbia Basin of Oregon and Washington, USA, is surprising as potato tuberworm is most commonly a pest in tropical and subtropical regions. Potato tuberworm was studied in a manipulative experiment to determine how stage (egg, larva, and pupa) and soil depth affected the potential for winter survival. In early January 2007, eggs, tubers infested with larvae, and pupae were placed in the soil at 6, 10, and 20 cm depths, or left on the soil surface. Each potato tuberworm life stage was sampled at 7-17-day intervals for 90 days and survival was estimated at each time period. Eggs survived up to 54 days with the greatest survival observed at 6-cm soil depth and the lowest survival on the soil surface. However, egg survival was significantly reduced after 1 month of exposure to winter conditions. Larvae were able to survive up to 30 days with the greatest survival observed at 20-cm soil depth. Tubers at the surface and buried at 6 cm were frozen; thus, no larval survival was recorded. The pupal stage showed a greater tolerance to winter conditions than the egg or larval stages, surviving up to 91 days of exposure. These results suggest that the pupal stage is probably the stage most likely to survive winter conditions in the northwestern USA.