Blooming Success: Flower Rich Crop Margins Benefit Natural Pest Control

My name is Victoria Wickens and I am a final year PhD student studying natural pest control in agroecosystems. This is my first blog post here and I would like to share with you my research topic on flower rich margins and their role in pest control. Let’s start from the top.

We have all heard we need to produce more food for an increasingly populated planet. In order to do this, we need to either make more food from the land we already use or face using more land to make up the difference. I am in favour of making more from less. More specifically, I would like us to waste less wheat from feeding aphid pests by using our natural environment in a more clever way. This can be done through improving our natural pest control service.

Sounds great, but how do we do that? We increase the number of aphids being attacked by natural enemies by promoting natural enemy abundance and movement into arable fields.

Specialist Pest Control Action Shot: Aphids are green on the right, and those which have parasitized by a specialist parasitic wasp are brown shells on the left.

 

IMG_5020_cropped

Generalist Pest Control Action Shot: Aphid being eaten by the eating machine, a hoverfly larva.

 

Sounds like a plan, so what can we do to achieve that? We transform grassy field margin deserts into a flower rich supportive habitat with as little effort as simply removing the grass and dusting some seeds in.

Success Attracts Others In: Flower rich margin success with additional benefits, not only improving natural pest control but also enhancing crop pollination nearby as well.

 

Sounds easy, so why aren’t we doing it already then? Insecticides have been the norm for most growers to protect their crops from pests for years, but times are changing. There are a range of reasons to suggest we need to cut back on the use of insecticides and find more alternatives to fill in this gap. There are studies looking at ways to improve the natural predation of pests through small land management changes, such as adding a hedge here or putting in a raised bank there. However, few researchers have looked at using flowers for boosting our beneficial predators and parasitic insects.

So where do I come in? Right here. This flower gap, that’s me. I have found flower rich field margins can massively increase the predation rates of aphids. That is to say, fewer aphids would be found in our fields, so more wheat would be saved from damage and disease.

Great, we have the answer, right? We have one answer; there are many we still need. For example, we found the boosting predation rates declined as you moved from the field margin into the field. This makes sense, a decay of action. This means we need to design our fields in such a way that we can still achieve desired control throughout the field. There are also questions relating to the surrounding landscape around our fields. How do they change the effectiveness of our small margin managements? I could go on.

 

Winter Wheat: There is so much going on in this one field.

Winter Wheat: There is so much going on in this one field.

 

It’s exciting stuff, perhaps the future of sustainable crop protection! But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves; we need to publish this evidence first…

First blog post, what did you think? Comments, thoughts and suggestions very welcome below.

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