Intercropping Suppresses Whitefly in Colombia

Intercropping the tropical rootcrop cassava with maize or cowpeas resulted in lower whitefly populations of the two species, Aleurotrachelus socialis and Trialeurodes variabilis compared to monocropped cassava. Higher whitefly populations preferred the more vigorous monocropped cassava. Intercropping cassava, however, also resulted in less vigorous plant growth. Data from the Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical in Cali, Colombia, reveals that whiteflies responded to plant size and/or nutritional quality.

Cassava is extensively grown by small farmers worldwide, and is often intercropped with shorter-duration crops. When these intercrops are harvested, the conditions of the cropping system change drastically. If the direct effects of intercropping are critical to the reduction of cassava pests, these effects would be reduced after harvest of the intercrop. It would be more beneficial to have the effects last into the postharvest period because cassava has no critical period for yield formation. Damage to the cassava crop is proportional to the duration of the insect attack.

The Experiment

The study site located in Nataima, northern Colombia, has a bimodal rainfall pattern, with an average annual rainfall of 1375 mm and mean daily temperatures of 26 to 30íC. Four treatments were replicated four times in a randomized complete block design. The treatments were: a regional variety of cassava planted in monoculture, intercropped with cowpea, and with maize. The fourth treatment was a mixed variety monoculture of cassava. Plots consisted of 10 rows (1.8 m apart) of 20 cassava plants (0.6 m apart); borders were cassava.

Maize and cowpeas were harvested 17 weeks after planting (WAP). Maize and cowpea plant biomass was cut and left as mulch. A regional variety of cassava was used for the intercropping trials, and was harvested 45 WAP. Cassava variety CMC 40 was used in monocropped plots, and was harvested 35 WAP. Trials were weeded manually until harvest of the intercrops, then paraquat was used until 22 WAP, after which the trials were not weeded.

The cassava cycle was broken into four periods: establishment (4 to 6 WAP), preharvest (8 to16 WAP), postharvest (18 to 35 WAP), and mature (39 to 45 WAP). Harvest refers to the intercrop. Whitefly egg densities were analyzed for the entire trial, and for the different cassava periods.

Sampling whitefly egg populations. Whitefly populations were determined at leaf and plant levels. Egg populations per plant were estimated, and analyses were conducted separately for the two whitefly species.


Overall, A. socialis egg densities per leaf were significantly lower in cassava/cowpea systems than in other treatments, but did not differ significantly among the other treatments.

T. variabilis egg densities were significantly lower in cassava/cowpea systems than in cassava/maize or monoculture (average 48 percent lower than monoculture), but egg densities in cassava/maize systems did not differ from that in a monoculture.

Egg populations per plant. Combined egg populations per plant for both the pre- and post-harvest periods averaged 1.07 million for A. socialis and 0.28 million for T. variabilis. Egg populations were greatest at the end of harvest for A. socialis , and at 16 WAP for T. variabilis.

In both intercroping systems, egg populations of A. socialis per plant were much lower than in the monoculture (69 percent lower in cassava/cowpea and 54 percent lower in cassava/maize). Greater reductions occurred after intercrop harvest.

Cassava/cowpea had 71 percent fewer T. variabilis eggs than monoculture, with the greatest reduction occurring after intercrop harvest. Cassava/maize systems showed lower egg populations only after harvest.


Intercropping cassava in this experiment depressed cassava leaf growth but not yields. Yield losses best corresponded with whitefly density per leaf. Yield losses were only 13 percent in the cowpea/cassava system, but as high as 58 to 65 percent in other treatments, including monoculture. In the cassava/maize trials, populations of T. variabilis were significantly lower than in the monocrop only after maize harvest.

Intercrops may indirectly affect herbivore levels through changes in host plant quality (size, leaf area, and nutrient content of the leaves). Differences in host plant size might affect the microclimate of the whitefly habitat through lower leaf production rates and thinner canopies. In all plots, greater numbers of whiteflies tended to occur on larger plants, thus it appears that host plant size and perhaps architecture did have a major influence on whitefly populations.

Gold, S.G. 1990. Direct and residual effects of short duration intercrops on cassava whiteflies Aleurotrachelus socialis and Trialeurodes variabilis (Homoptera: Aleyrodidae) in Colombia. Agriculture, Ecosystem and Environment. 32 (1990) 57-67.