Thrips have been recognized as primary vectors of tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) with Frankliniella occidentalis (Pergande) reported as the most important and efficient vector, while other species such as Thrips tabaci Lindeman also include populations that can vector the virus. A study was undertaken to establish the diversity of thrips and presence of vectors for TSWV in four major tomato production areas in Kenya. The cytochrome oxidase 1 (CO1) gene was used to generate sequences from thrips samples collected from tomatoes and weeds, and phylogenetic analysis done to establish the variation within potential vector populations. Ceratothripoides brunneus Bagnall was the predominant species of thrips in all areas. F. occidentalis and T. tabaci were abundant in Nakuru, Kirinyaga, and Loitokitok but not detected at Bungoma. Other vectors of tospoviruses identified in low numbers were Frankliniella schultzei (Trybom) and Scirtothrips dorsalis Hood. Variation was observed in T. tabaci, F. occidentalis, and F. schultzei. Kenyan specimens of T. tabaci from tomato belonged to the arrhenotokous group, while those of F. occidentalis clustered with the Western flower thrips G group. The detection of RNA of TSWV in both of these species of thrips supported the role they play as vectors. The study has demonstrated the high diversity of thrips species in tomato production and the occurrence of important vectors of TSWV and other tospoviruses.
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