Localized migration and dispersal by the sweet potato whitefly, Bemisia tabaci

David N. Byrne, Robin J. Rathman, Thomas V. Orum, John C. Palumbo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


Laboratory populations of the sweet potato whitefly, Bemisia tabaci, have been shown to consist of both migratory and trivial flying morphs. The behavior of these forms as part of the process of short-range migration was examined under field conditions. Insects were marked in a field of melons using fluorescent dust during two consecutive growing seasons. During the first growing season, passive traps used to collect living whiteflies, were placed along 16 equally spaced transects radiating from the field to a distance of up to 1.0 km. Wind out of the north-east consistently carried migrating whiteflies to traps placed along transects in the southwestern quadrant because cold air drainages dictate wind direction during early morning hours in the desert Southwest. For this reason, during the second season traps were laid out over fallow ground in a rectangular grid extending 2.7 km to the south-west of the marked field. If dispersal was entirely passive, patterns could be described using a diffusion model. Statistical examination of the data, however, demonstrated that the distribution on all days was patchy. Geostatistical techniques were used to describe the observed patchiness. Traps in the immediate vicinity of the marked field caught more whiteflies than the daily median. Large numbers were also collected from near the periphery of the grid. Whiteflies were far less prevalent in the grid's center. As a result, the distribution of captured whiteflies can be described as bimodal. These patterns confirm behavior observed in the laboratory, i.e., a portion of the population are trivial fliers that do not engage in migration and are consequently captured in traps near the field, and a portion initially respond to cues associated with skylight, ignoring cues provided by the ground, and fly for a period of time before landing in distant traps. During both years movement out of the field had an exaggerated directional component on 13 of 14 days.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)320-328
Number of pages9
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1996


  • Bemisia
  • Dispersal
  • Insecta
  • Migration
  • Whitefly

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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