Silicon impedes stalk penetration by the borer Eldana saccharina in sugarcane


*Correspondence and present address: Olivia L. Kvedaras, Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, Private Mail Bag, Wagga Wagga, NSW 2650, Australia. E-mail:


Many plants grown in soils amended with silicon (Si) display increased levels of resistance to attack by insect herbivores. This study aimed to determine if Si treatment impeded Eldana saccharina Walker (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) stalk penetration and subsequent damage, as well as borer mass gain, on the node and internode of a susceptible (N11) and a resistant (N33) sugarcane cultivar. Sugarcane [Saccharum spp. (Poaceae)] cultivars were grown in a pot trial in Si-deficient river sand, with (Si+) and without (Si–) calcium silicate. Sugarcane was infested with 2-week-old E. saccharina larvae and harvested at four times, 24, 48, 72, and 96 h after infestation. Silicon-treated plants showed significant increases in Si content compared to controls, and the external rind was significantly harder for Si+ cane than Si– cane. Silicon treatment significantly decreased borer penetration, stalk damage, and larval mass gain. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that Si contributes to sugarcane stalk borer resistance by impeding larval penetration. Silicon appears to contribute to the suppression of E. saccharina directly through reduced larval growth and feeding damage to the crop, and indirectly by delaying stalk penetration, resulting most likely in increased exposure time of young larvae to natural enemies, adverse climatic factors, or control measures that target young larvae (e.g., insecticides).