Genetic diversity of Bemisia tabaci species colonizing cassava in Central African Republic characterized by analysis of cytochrome c oxidase subunit I

After 2007, upsurges of whiteflies on cassava plants and high incidences of cassava diseases were observed in Central African Republic. This recent upsurge in the abundance of Bemisia tabaci (Gennadius) (Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae) was directly linked to serious damage to cassava crops resulting from spread of whitefly-borne cassava mosaic geminiviruses (CMGs). There is currently very little information describing whitefly populations on cassava and associated crops in Central African Republic. The current study aimed to address this gap, and to determine whether the increasing damage associated with B. tabaci whiteflies was the consequence of a new invasion, or an upsurge of a local population. The molecular genetic identification and phylogenetic relationships of 898 B. tabaci adult individuals collected from representative locations (54) throughout CAR were determined based on their mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I sequences (mtCOI). Field and ecological data were also collected from each site, including whitefly abundance, CMD incidence, host plants colonized by B. tabaci and agro-ecological zone. Phylogenetic analysis of the whitefly mtCOI sequences indicated that SSA1 (-SG1, -SG2), SSA3, MED, MEAM1 and Indian Ocean (IO) putative species occur in CAR. One specific haplotype of SSA1-SG1 (SSA1-SG1-P18F5) predominated on most cassava plants and at the majority of sites. This haplotype was identical to the SSA1-SG1 Mukono8-4 (KM377961) haplotype that was recorded from Uganda but that also occurs widely in CMD pandemic-affected areas of East Africa. These results suggest that the SSA1-SG1-P18F5 haplotype occurring in CAR represents a recent invasive population, and that it is the likely cause of the increased spread and severity of CMD in CAR. Furthermore, the high mtDNA sequence diversity observed for SSA1 and its broad presence on all sites and host plants sampled suggest that this genetic group was the dominant resident species even before the arrival of this new invasive haplotype.