Ants as tools in sustainable agriculture.

Published online
23 Sep 2015
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Offenberg, J.
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With an expanding human population placing increasing pressure on the environment, agriculture needs sustainable production that can match conventional methods. Integrated pest management (IPM) is more sustainable, but not necessarily as efficient as conventional non-sustainable measures. Being predatory and organized as superorganisms, ants possess traits making them suitable agents in IPM. Recent works on weaver ants Oecophylla spp. showcase ants as highly efficient pest controllers. A synthesis shows that weaver ants can reduce pest numbers and their damage and increase yields in multiple crops. Their efficiency is comparable to chemical pesticides or higher, while at lower costs. They provide a rare example of documented efficient conservation biological control. Weaver ants share beneficial traits with almost 13 000 other ant species and are unlikely to be unique in their properties as control agents. A synthesis of applied work on other ant species illustrates potentials for control of arthropod pests, weeds and plant diseases in orchards, forestry and arable crops. Synthesis and applications. By showing that ant biocontrol can match synthetic pesticides in a wide setting of agricultural systems, this review emphasizes the potential of managing ants to achieve sustainable pest management solutions. The synthesis suggests future directions and may catalyse a research agenda on the utilization of ants, not only against arthropod pests, but also against weeds and plant diseases. Lastly, it may stimulate implementation of already proven ant-based integrated pest management techniques.

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