Gardiner, M. M., D. A. Landis, C. Gratton, C. D. DiFonzo, M. O. O'Neal, J. Chacon, M. Wayo, N. Schmidt, E. Mueller, and G. E. Heimpel. 2009. Landscape diversity enhances biological control of an introduced crop pest in the north-central USA. Ecological Applications 19:143-154.
Arthropod predators and parasitoids provide valuable ecosystem services in agricultural crops by suppressing populations of insect herbivores. Many natural enemies are influenced by non-crop habitat surrounding agricultural fields, and understanding if, and at what scales, land use patterns influence natural enemies is essential to redicting how landscape alters biological control services. Here we focus on biological control of soybean aphid, Aphis glycines Matumura, a specialist crop pest recently introduced to the north-central United States. We measured the amount of biological control service supplied to soybean in 26 replicate fields across Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota across two years (2005–2006). We measured the impact of natural enemies by experimentally excluding or allowing access to soybean aphid infested plants and comparing aphid population growth over 14 days. We also monitored aphid and natural enemy populations at large in each field. Predators, principally coccinellid beetles, dominated the natural enemy community of soybean in both years. In the absence of aphid predators, A. glycines increased significantly, with 5.3-fold higher aphid populations on plants in exclusion cages vs. the open field after 14 days. We calculated a biological control services index (BSI) based on relative suppression of aphid populations and related it to landscape diversity and composition at multiple spatial scales surrounding each site. We found that BSI values increased with landscape diversity, measured as Simpson’s D. Landscapes dominated by corn and soybean fields provided less biocontrol service to soybean compared with landscapes with an abundance of crop and non-crop habitats. The abundance of Coccinellidae was related to landscape composition, with beetles being more abundant in landscapes with an abundance of forest and grassland compared with landscapes dominated by agricultural crops. Landscape diversity and composition at a scale of 1.5 km surrounding the focal field explained the greatest proportion of the variation in BSI and Coccinellidae abundance. This study indicates that natural enemies provide a regionally important ecosystem service by suppressing a key soybean pest, reducing the need for insecticide applications. Furthermore, it suggests that management to maintain or enhance landscape diversity has the potential to stabilize or increase biocontrol services.
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