a1 South African Sugarcane Research Institute, Private Bag X02, Mount Edgecombe 4300, South Africa
a2 School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, Wits 2050, South Africa
a3 Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement, Unité de recherche systèmes canniers, Avenue Agropolis, 34398 Montpellier cedex 5, France
Silicon (Si) can improve resistance of plants to insect attack and may also enhance tolerance of water stress. This study tested if Si-mediated host plant resistance to insect attack was augmented by water stress. Four sugarcane cultivars, two resistant (N21, N33) and two susceptible (N26, N11) to Eldana saccharina Walker were grown in a pot trial in Si-deficient river sand, with (Si+) and without (Si−) calcium silicate. To induce water stress, irrigation to half the trial was reduced after 8.5 months. The trial was artificially infested with E. saccharina eggs after water reduction and harvested 66 days later. Silicon treated, stressed and non-stressed plants of the same cultivar did not differ appreciably in Si content. Decreases in numbers of borers recovered and stalk damage were not associated with comparable increases in rind hardness in Si+ cane, particularly in water-stressed susceptible cultivars. Overall, Si+ plants displayed increased resistance to E. saccharina attack compared with Si− plants. Borer recoveries were significantly lower in stressed Si+ cane compared with either stressed Si− or non-stressed Si− and Si+ cane. Generally, fewer borers were recovered from resistant cultivars than susceptible cultivars. Stalk damage was significantly lower in Si+ cane than in Si− cane, for N21, N11 and N26. Stalk damage was significantly less in Si+ combined susceptible cultivars than in Si− combined susceptible cultivars under non-stressed and especially stressed conditions. In general, the reduction in borer numbers and stalk damage in Si+ plants was greater for water-stressed cane than non-stressed cane, particularly for susceptible sugarcane cultivars. The hypothesis that Si affords greater protection against E. saccharina borer attack in water-stressed sugarcane than in non-stressed cane and that this benefit is greatly enhanced in susceptible cultivars is supported. A possible active role for soluble Si in defence against E. saccharina is proposed.
(Accepted October 20 2006)