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"Entomopathogenic nematodes effectively kill fungus gnat pests"

Fungus gnats are serious pests in South Africa's undercover farming, often harming production of various crops. The larvae of fungus gnats are soil-dwelling and, if uncontrolled, can chew through a plant's underground root system and severely harm the plant's ability to grow.

In a recently completed MSc study, it was found that local EPNs, which are found naturally in Western Cape soil may be very effective at killing fungus gnats. Therefore, EPNs might prove to be a powerful alternative to chemical insecticides by killing the pest insects without harming humans or the environment.

Biocontrol for fungus gnats has been achieved through the use of biocontrol agents such as EPNs, predatory mites, rove beetles and soil bacterium. Worldwide, control using EPNs has been dominated by the use of the EPN, Steinernema feltiae, which has also been adopted by some South African producers. It is important to note that S. feltiae is an alien EPN species that has, to date, not been isolated from South Africa. Thus the effects of this EPN on South Africa’s biodiversity are still unknown and the importation of this species is illegal. Furthermore, it has been found that S. feltiae is less adaptable to the environmental conditions of high temperatures that prevail in South Africa’s undercover production.

Agil Katumanyane, recently completed an MSc, focused on determining the potential for using local EPNs to control fungus gnats in undercover farms in South Africa. The project was carried out in the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology and was supervised by nematologists Prof Antoinette P Malan and Dr Tiarin Ferreira. Funding was provided by NemaBio (Pty) Ltd and the Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme (THRIP: TP14062571871).

Laboratory bioassays and field trials were performed on the larvae of the fungus gnats. Field trials were performed on a commercial cucumber farm in Paarl, Western Cape. The local EPNs that were tested were found to positively control the fungus gnats both during the laboratory trials and field trials.

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