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Using Habitat Manipulation to provide Effective Biological Control for Outdoor and Semi-protected Horticultural Crops - HH3123SFV

Although habitat manipulation has been suggested as a suitable method for increasing biological pest control in arable crops, the concept has not been tested fully for horticultural crops, and there is little information on the use of within-crop habitat manipulation in horticultural crops. The overall aim of this project is to provide proof of concept for the use of within-crop habitat manipulations to increase biological pest control in horticultural crops and to provide knowledge that will enable growers to use them effectively. The research will focus on within-crop habitat manipulations to improve biological pest control in outdoor and semi-protected (those crops that are partly sheltered by polythene or netting, but not entirely enclosed) horticultural crops (e.g. annual field crops and hardy nursery stock, respectively). This improvement will be gained by enhancing endemic biocontrol agents (e.g. syrphids, coccinellids, carabids and staphylinids), increasing the retention and persistence of released biocontrol agents (e.g. anthocorids, braconids, chrysopids and phytoseiid mites) and reducing the negative interactions between them. The habitat manipulations to be considered are 1) sources of supplemental food (e.g. pollen, nectar and epiphytic fungi), 2) surface mulches (e.g. spent mushroom compost, green vegetable waste and vermicompost) and 3) wildflower refuges (blocks or strips containing plants such as poppy, buckwheat, tansy, chickweed, field scabious).

The project will use hardy nursery stock and annual field crops as ‘model’ systems. Research on semi-protected crops will use information and experimental techniques from previous Defra projects to determine how the dispersal of released biocontrol agents is affected by the provision of supplemental food sources. In outdoor crops, Defra-funded research on surface mulches in arable crops will be developed to determine the optimal type of mulch required to minimise negative interactions between released and endemic biocontrol agents. Finally, research on wildflower refuges, to increase the effectiveness of endemic biocontrol agents in arable crops, will be extended to determine how these techniques can be adapted for use within outdoor and semi-protected horticultural crops, which are often ephemeral and have shorter cropping periods. There will be a particular emphasis on the plant species composition and spatial arrangement of the refuges to target biocontrol agents specific to pests of horticultural crops.The project will use an informed approach to develop an understanding of how within-crop habitat manipulations influence the effectiveness of endemic and released biocontrol agents. This should lead to cost effective biological pest control strategies that integrate with current crop management practices and other non-insecticidal methods of pest control. The research will also ensure that the strategies developed maintain horticultural land biodiversity whilst supporting valuable ecosystem services such as pollination and biological control.

A project steering group will be formed at the start of the project to ensure that all research is compatible with current horticultural crop management practices, provide feedback on experimental work and facilitate uptake of the results by growers. The results of this research will be communicated to the industry throughout the lifetime of the project through publications in the popular press, presentations at grower meetings and demonstration days to facilitate the uptake of positive results. A set of factsheets for growers detailing the results of the research, the costs, benefits and disbenefits of habitat manipulation; and recommendations on the use of habitat manipulation to enhance biological pest control will be produced. The results of the project will be communicated to the scientific community through publications in refereed scientific journals, and a minimum of four publications is expected from this research.

The development of reliable and effective methods for biological pest control, as proposed in this project, meets Defra’s policy and scientific objectives for HH31 and the Government’s policy to reduce pesticide usage in horticultural crops. The research will build on and extend existing knowledge (Defra projects HH2401SX, HH2402SX, HH2403SX and AR0301) as well as applying knowledge from research in the arable sector on the use of wildflower strips and beetle banks.
Project Documents
• FRP - Final Report : HH3123SFV - Final report   (1557k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2005

To: 2010

Cost: £1,261,906
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Warwick - HRI
Allocated - WHRI              
Biological Control              
Pest Control              
Rural Communities              
Sustainable Farming and Food              
Sustainable Production              
Fields of Study