Ecological requirements drive the variable responses of wheat pests and natural enemies to the landscape context.

Published online
16 Feb 2022
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

González, E. & Bianchi, F. J. J. A. & Eckerter, P. W. & Pfaff, V. & Weiler, S. & Entling, M. H.
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Semi-natural habitats (SNH) are considered essential for pest-suppressive landscapes, but their influence on crop pests and natural enemies can be highly variable. Instead of SNH per se, the availability of resources, such as pollen and nectar, may be more relevant for supporting pest control. Here, we assessed the spatiotemporal variation of multiple insect pests (cereal leaf beetles and aphids) and natural enemies (predators and aphid parasitoids) in wheat fields and their responses to landscape context and flower availability. We combined detailed information on pollen use by natural enemies with the specific distribution of pollen-providing plants across a gradient of landscape composition and configuration. The abundance of wheat pests was tightly linked to wheat development stage. Syrphids colonised the fields early in the season, while the abundance of other enemies increased later in the season. The responses of pests to landscape structure were variable and, while some pests had low abundances in landscapes with high edge density and SNH cover, Sitobion avenae abundance was positively associated with SNH cover. Lacewings, syrphids and cereal leaf beetles were abundant in landscapes with diverse and abundant flower resources, whereas the abundance of parasitoids and Nabis sp. was driven by aphid abundance. We detected no significant indirect effects of landscape on pests via natural enemies. Synthesis and applications. Our findings highlight the need for conservation biological control to go beyond 'one size fits all' and consider the specific ecology of the involved organisms, even for a single crop type. Landscapes with high edge density and flowering woody plants may support natural enemies, in particular syrphids, which colonised the fields early in the season. Incentives for pest-suppressive landscapes should focus on tailored strategies that disfavour dominant cereal pests and simultaneously enhance natural enemies according to their ecological requirements.

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