Host plant affiliations of aphid vector species found in a remote tropical environment.
The Ord River Irrigation Area (ORIA) produces annual crops during the dry season (April to October), and perennial crops all-year-round, and is located in tropical northwestern Australia. Sandalwood plantations cover 50% of the ORIA's cropping area. Aphids cause major crop losses through transmission of viruses causing debilitating diseases and direct feeding damage. During 2016-2017, in both dry and wet seasons a total of 3320 leaf samples were collected from diverse types of sites on cultivated and uncultivated land and 1248 (38%) of them were from aphid-colonized plants. In addition, aphids were found at 236 of 355 sampling sites. The 62 plant species sampled came from 23 families 19 of which contained aphid-colonized species. Aphid hosts included introduced weeds, Australian native plants, and volunteer or planted crop plants. Six aphid species were identified by light microscopy and CO1 gene sequencing, but there was no within species nucleotide sequence diversity. Aphis nerii, Hysteroneura setariae, Rhopalosiphum maidis and Schoutedenia ralumensis each colonized 1-3 plant species from a single plant family. A. craccivora colonized 14 species in five plant families. A. gossypii was the most polyphagous species colonizing 19 species in 11 plant families. A. gossypii, A. craccivora, A. nerii and S. ralumensis were found in both wet and dry seasons. Because of A. craccivora's prevalence and high incidences on understory weeds and host trees, sandalwood plantations were important reservoirs for aphid spread to wild and crop plant hosts growing in cultivated and uncultivated land. Alternative hosts growing in rural bushland, irrigation channel banks, vacant or fallow land, and orchard plantation understories also constituted significant aphid reservoirs. This study provides new knowledge of the ecology of aphid vector species not only in the ORIA but also in tropical northern Australia generally. It represents one of relatively few investigations on aphid ecology in tropical environments worldwide.