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Root aphid (Aploneura lentisci) population size on perennial ryegrass is determined by drought and endophyte strain

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Climate change is anticipated to lead to an increase in the occurrence and intensity of drought and fuctuations in insect cycles that will challenge modern pasture systems. Feeding by root aphids such as Aploneura lentisci Pass. can be a signifcant challenge to pastures. These below-ground living aphids are commonly found in New Zealand and Australia, feeding year-round on the roots of graminaceous plants such as perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.). Some strains of the fungal endophyte Epichloë festucae var. lolii in perennial ryegrass can provide protection against root aphids and greater resilience under drought, contributing to higher persistency and growth than endophyte-free plants. However, the interaction between insect pressure and drought is not understood. This study examined the efect of drought on root aphid populations and plant performance in perennial ryegrass plants relative to endophyte status (±) and endophyte strain (AR37, NZCT) in a glasshouse experiment. Plants were cloned across the drought and well-watered treatments, and half of the plants were inoculated with root aphids, whilst half of the plants were treated with insecticide. Endophyte infection with strain NZCT and AR37 reduced root aphid numbers. Aphid populations were signifcantly higher in drought-stressed than in well-watered plants in both endophyte-infected and endophyte-free treatments. Under drought conditions, root aphid populations were increased 4-fold in NZCT and 8-fold in AR37 and endophyte-free plants in comparison with their well-watered counterparts. Root aphids reduced shoot dry weight by 16% in drought-exposed and 26% in well-watered plants in comparison with their insecticidetreated counterparts whilst reducing root biomass by 49%. Our results suggest that root aphids are likely able to exploit the higher availability of amino acids in the plant sap of drought-exposed plants. This study provides evidence that climate change-mediated impacts of root aphids could reduce production in perennial ryegrass-dominant pastures. However, feld trials would be necessary to determine whether this efect is seen in situ, where numerous additional factors will be operating at the same time.


New Zealand Strategic Science Investment Fund (SSIF)


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© The Author(s) 2023

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  • Non revenue


  • English

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  • No


Springer Nature

Journal title

Journal of Pest Science



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