Werling, B. P., T. D. Meehan, B. Robertson, C. Gratton, and D. A. Landis. 2011. Biocontrol potential varies with changes in biofuel–crop plant communities and landscape perenniality. Global Change Biology Bioenergy 3:347-359.
We examined the potential local- and landscape-level impacts of different biofuel production systems on biocontrol, an important service provided by arthropod natural enemies. Specifically, we sampled natural enemies with sweep nets and measured predation of sentinel pest eggs in stands of corn, switchgrass and mixed prairie in Michigan and Wisconsin (total n=40 for natural enemy sampling, n=60 for egg predation), relating them to crop type, forb cover and diversity, and the composition and heterogeneity of the surrounding landscape. Grasslands with intermediate levels of forb cover and flower diversity supported two-orders of magnitude more natural enemy biomass, fourfold more natural enemy families, and threefold greater rates of egg predation than corn. Data suggest this was in part due to a general increase in biomass, richness and predation in perennial grasslands compared with corn, combined with a positive effect of intermediate levels of forb cover and flower diversity. Specifically, natural enemy biomass and family richness showed hump-shaped relationships to forb cover that peaked in sites with 5–25% forbs, while egg predation increased with floral diversity. At the landscape scale, both natural-enemy biomass and egg predation increased with the area of forest in the landscape, and egg predation almost doubled as the area of herbaceous, perennial habitats within 1.5 km of study sites increased. Our results suggest that floristically diverse, perennial grasslands support diverse and abundant predator communities that contribute to natural pest suppression. In addition, large-scale production of biofuel crops could positively or negatively affect biocontrol services in agricultural landscapes through associated changes in the area of perennial habitats. Biofuel landscapes that incorporate perennial grasslands could support a variety of beneficial organisms and ecosystem services in addition to producing biomass.
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