The use of protective netting is becoming an increasingly popular practice in the citrus industry in South Africa. However, data on its effects on biotic factors, particularly insect pests, are limited. This study focused on the effect nets have on key citrus pests in the Eastern Cape province. Orchards under nets and open orchards, of similar cultivars, ages and management practices, were monitored at several sites over two seasons for pest infestation and damage. Weekly monitoring was conducted for Thaumatotibia leucotreta infestation. Other pests were monitored either monthly or once a season. During the first season, T. leucotreta infestation was higher in orchards under nets, probably because, unlike the open orchards, the nets provided protection for the existing high levels of T. leucotreta. No T. leucotreta infestation was recorded in both orchard types in 2019. This was due to generally lower than usual pest abundance and dramatically improved area-wide management of T. leucotreta. Pheromone traps were used to monitor T. leucotreta males, including sterile moths used in a sterile insect technique programme.

Although higher catches of wild T. leucotreta moths were recorded in orchards under nets, so too were there higher numbers of sterile moths and a higher ratio of sterile to wild moths, indicating the potential for better pest suppression for orchards under nets. Various other key pests were monitored during this time, with variable results for each species. Pests that were elevated under nets include Planococcus citri and Aonidiella aurantii. Pests that seemed to be lower under nets were Ceratitis capitata and Scirtothrips aurantii. Nets had no effect on Empoasca distinguenda, Penthimiola bella and Eriophyes sheldoni. These differences in pest levels in netted and open orchards trigger an important debate on whether nets are beneficial for or detrimental to the successful implementation of an integrated pest management programme.

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Tamryn Marsberg, Mellissa Peyper, Wayne Kirkman, Sean D. Moore and Guy Sutton
African Entomology