Entomology, Department of


Date of this Version

Winter 12-4-2009


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Entomology; Under the Supervision of Professors Gary L. Hein and Stephen D. Danielson
Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2009
Copyright (c) 2009 Abby R. Stilwell


The wheat curl mite (WCM), Aceria tosichella Keifer, transmits three viruses to winter wheat: wheat streak mosaic virus, High Plains virus, and Triticum mosaic virus. This virus complex causes yellowing of the foliage and stunting of plants. WCMs disperse by wind, and an increased understanding of mite movement and subsequent virus spread is necessary in determining the risk of serious virus infections in winter wheat. These risk parameters will help growers make better decisions regarding WCM management. The objectives of this study were to evaluate the capabilities of remote sensing to identify virus infected plants and to establish the potential of using remote sensing to track virus spread and consequently, mite movement.

Although the WCM is small and very hard to track, the viruses it vectors produce symptoms that can be detected with remote sensing. Field plots of simulated volunteer wheat were established between 2006 and 2009, infested with WCMs, and spread mites and virus into adjacent winter wheat. The virus gradients created by WCM movement allowed for the measurement of mite movement potential with both proximal and aerial remote sensing instruments. The ability to detect WCM-vectored viruses with remote sensing was investigated by comparing vegetation indices calculated from proximal remote sensing data to ground truth data obtained in the field. Of the ten vegetation indices tested, the red edge position (REP) index had the best relationship with ground truth data.

The spatial spread of virus from WCM source plots was modeled with cokriging. Virus symptoms predicted by cokriging occurred in an oval pattern displaced to the southeast. Data from the spatial spread in small plots of this study were used to estimate the potential sphere of influence for volunteer wheat fields.

The impact of thrips on WCM populations was investigated by a series of greenhouse, field, and observational studies. WCM populations in winter wheat increased more slowly when thrips populations were higher, both in the field and in the greenhouse. Two species of thrips, Thrips tabaci Lindeman and Frankliniella occidentalis (Pergande) were observed to feed directly on WCMs. The collective results from this study identify thrips as a regulating factor for WCM populations.