Earth mites are major winter pests of a variety of crops and pastures in southern Australia. Competition between four earth mite species was investigated using field and shadehouse experiments. The influence of different plant hosts on the frequency and intensity of competitive interactions also were examined. This information is important, because control attempts that eradicate one species of mite could be directly followed by an increase in abundance of another earth mite species. There were strong effects of intraspecific competition on the reproductive rate of species, while interspecific interactions between Halotydeus destructor (Tucker) and Penthaleus species and between the three Penthaleus species also were detected. Competitive abilities were altered on the different plant types. On pasture, the competitive advantage swayed between Penthaleus major (Dugés), H. destructor, and Penthaleus falcatus (Qin & Halliday). Penthaleus sp. x was the strongest competitor in a mixture of wheat, Triticum aestivum (L.), and oats, Avena sativa (L.), whereas on canola, Brassica napus (L.), and bristly ox-tongue, Picris echioides (L.), P. falcatus, and H. destructor were superior competitors. These results suggest that competition is a strong force influencing the abundance of earth mites in the field and that host plant factors are important in shaping the type of interactions. This highlights the importance of identifying mite species when considering control options and suggests that effective control recommendations need to be developed for each individual species.
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Vol. 98 • No. 2