The dry bulb mite, Aceria tulipae, is the most important pest of stored tulip bulbs in The Netherlands. This tiny, eriophyoid mite hides in the narrow space between scales in the interior of the bulb. To achieve biological control of this hidden pest, candidate predators small enough to move in between the bulb scales are required. Earlier experiments have shown this potential for the phytoseiid mite, Neoseiulus cucumeris, but only after the bulbs were exposed to ethylene, a plant hormone that causes a slight increase in the distance between tulip bulb scales, just sufficient to allow this predator to reach the interior part of the bulb. Applying ethylene, however, is not an option in practice because it causes malformation of tulip flowers. In fact, to prevent this cosmetic damage, bulb growers ventilate rooms where tulip bulbs are stored, thereby removing ethylene produced by the bulbs (e.g. in response to mite or fungus infestation). Recently, studies on the role of predatory mites in controlling another eriophyoid mite on coconuts led to the discovery of an exceptionally small phytoseiid mite, Neoseiulus paspalivorus. This predator is able to move under the perianth of coconuts where coconut mites feed on meristematic tissue of the fruit. This discovery prompted us to test N. paspalivorus for its ability to control A. tulipae on tulip bulbs under storage conditions (ventilated rooms with bulbs in open boxes; 23 °C; storage period June-October). Using destructive sampling we monitored predator and prey populations in two series of replicated experiments, one at a high initial level of dry bulb mite infestation, late in the storage period, and another at a low initial dry bulb mite infestation, halfway the storage period. The first and the second series involved treatment with N. paspalivorus and a control experiment, but the second series had an additional treatment in which the predator N. cucumeris was released. Taking the two series of experiments together we found that N. paspalivorus controlled the populations of dry bulb mites both on the outer scale of the bulbs as well as in the interior part of the bulbs, whereas N. cucumeris significantly reduced the population of dry bulb mites on the outer scale, but not in the interior part of the bulb. Moreover, N. paspalivorus was found predominantly inside the bulb, whereas N. cucumeris was only found on the outer scale, thereby confirming our hypothesis that the small size of N. paspalivorus facilitates access to the interior of the bulbs. We argue that N. paspalivorus is a promising candidate for the biological control of dry bulb mites on tulip bulbs under storage conditions in the Netherlands.
- acarine fauna