October | Thursday | 08, 2015 :: Whiteflies are small hemipterans that typically feed on the undersides of plant leaves. They comprise the family Aleyrodidae, the only member of the superfamily Aleyrodoidea. More than 1550 species have been described.
The ability of whiteflies to carry and spread disease is the widest impact they have had on global food production. In the tropics and subtropics, whiteflies have become one of the most serious crop protection problems. Economic losses are estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
While several species of whitefly cause crop losses through direct feeding, a species complex, or group of whiteflies in the genus Bemisia are important in the transmission of plant diseases. Bemisia tabaci and B. argentifolii, transmit African cassava mosaic, bean golden mosaic, bean dwarf mosaic, bean calico mosaic, tomato yellow leaf curl, tomato mottle, and other Begomoviruses, in the family Geminiviridae. The worldwide spread of emerging biotypes, such as B. tabaci biotype B, also known as, ‘B. argentifolii’, and a new biotype Q, continue to cause severe crop losses which will likely continue to increase, resulting in higher pesticide use on many crops (tomatoes, beans, cassava, cotton, cucurbits, potatoes, sweet potatoes). Efforts to develop environmentally friendly integrated pest management systems, with the goal of reducing insecticide use aim to re-establish the ecological equilibrium of predators, parasitoids, and microbial controls that were once in place. New crop varieties are also being developed with increased tolerance to whiteflies, and to the plant diseases carried by them. A major problem is the fact that whiteflies and the viruses they carry can infect many host plants, including agricultural crops, palms, and weeds. This is complicated by the difficulty in classifying and detecting new whitefly biotypes and Begomoviruses. Proper diagnosis of plant diseases depends on using sophisticated molecular techniques to detect and characterize the viruses and whiteflies which are present in a crop. A team of researchers, extension agents and growers working together are needed to follow disease development, using dynamic modeling, to understand the incidence of disease spread.