Nav: Home

Plant diversity could provide natural repellent for crop pests

October 12, 2016

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- A new study has unveiled why a field with a variety of plants seems to attract fewer plant-eating insects than farm land with just one type of crop.

Scientists and farmers have puzzled over this pattern that makes protecting crops from pests a challenge.

Research published in the current issue of Nature and led by William Wetzel, a new Michigan State University entomologist and the study's lead author, is shedding light on this interaction. Plants suppress their insect enemies by being variable, not just by being low quality on average as is typically thought.

After studying 53 species of insects, the researchers found that bugs have narrow ranges of nutrient levels where they flourish. If the plants being fed on are too nutrient rich or poor, the insects are less likely to thrive. Bugs surrounded by diverse plants are harmed much more by low-quality plants with the wrong nutrient levels than they are benefited by high-quality plants with high nutrient levels.

"Farm fields can create monocultures where pests may find the perfect nutrition to be healthy and reproduce," said Wetzel, who conducted the research during his doctoral work at the University of California, Davis. "Planting fields with higher plant nutrient variability could contribute to sustainable pest control."

Many large farm fields are monocultures because plants are bred to be as identical as possible. What are the solutions for larger growers to add diversity into their farming to discourage pests, while maintaining the same level of productivity?

Crop varieties could be bred with variable nutrient levels in the parts eaten by insects, for example the leaves or roots, while the parts ate by consumers could be consistent. Or farmers could plant new mixtures of crop varieties or genotypes that differ in nutrient levels.

With Wetzel's move to MSU, he intends to take this research to the next level. His program is using modern genetic resources to develop a model system for manipulating plant trait diversity in field populations and measuring the effects on insect populations and plant damage.

"The community of stellar agricultural and ecological scientists here and core facilities for chemistry, along with greenhouses and field research centers, is helping me test new hypotheses for how plant diversity influences insect ecology at large scales and in the field where it matters," said Wetzel, who's with the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. "I'm excited about bringing the work to MSU because of the potential to collaborate with an exciting array of molecular biologists, physiologists and landscape ecologists, as well as Extension specialists who bring new knowledge where it is most needed."
-end-
Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

For MSU news on the Web, go to MSUToday. Follow MSU News on Twitter at twitter.com/MSUnews.

Michigan State University

Related Agriculture Articles:

Urban agriculture only provides small environmental benefits in northeastern US
'Buy local' sounds like a great environmental slogan, epitomized for city dwellers by urban agriculture.
Scientists say agriculture is good for honey bees
Scientists with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture evaluated the impacts of row-crop agriculture, including the traditional use of pesticides, on honey bee health.
Widely accepted vision for agriculture may be inaccurate, misleading
'Food production must double by 2050 to feed the world's growing population.' This truism has been repeated so often in recent years that it has become widely accepted among academics, policymakers and farmers, but now researchers are challenging this assertion and suggesting a new vision for the future of agriculture.
New effort to promote careers in agriculture, natural resources
A new round of grants from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture is designed to promote careers in agriculture and natural resource management, and educators with the University of Tennessee Departments of Plant Sciences and Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications (ALEC) are among the grant recipients.
Corn yield modeling towards sustainable agriculture
Researchers use a 16 year field-experiment dataset to show the ability of a model to fine-tune optimal nitrogen fertilizer rates, and identify five ways it can inform nitrogen management guidelines.
Small-scale agriculture threatens the rainforest
An extensive study led by a researcher at Lund University in Sweden has mapped the effects of small farmers on the rain forests of Southeast Asia for the first time.
Space agriculture topic of symposium
New frontiers of soil and plant sciences may grow crops in space.
Measure of age in soil nitrogen could help precision agriculture
What's good for crops is not always good for the environment.
Invasive species could cause billions in damages to agriculture
Invasive insects and pathogens could be a multi-billion- dollar threat to global agriculture and developing countries may be the biggest target, according to a team of international researchers.
Males were saved by agriculture
The emergence of agriculture is suggested to have driven extensive human population growth.

Related Agriculture Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...