Parasitoid control of aphids in organic and conventional farming systems
Organic farmers cannot use most commonly available synthetic insecticides to control crop pests and reduce economic losses due to pest outbreaks. Instead, they rely heavily on the activities of naturally occurring predators and parasitoids, particularly in broad-acre crops such as cereals. It is still unclear whether organic farms which typically support greater levels of biodiversity also experience greater levels of pest control services. We assess whether organic farming systems were better able to control cereal aphids due to a greater diversity and activity of naturally occurring parasitoid species. We anticipated greater parasitism rate of aphids in organic arable fields due to closer proximity to plants that provide resources for adult parasitoids and places that are suitable for overwintering, and the presence of alternate aphid hosts when cereals are absent. Aphids were collected from organic and conventional cereal crops, and screened for parasitoid DNA using diagnostic polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Aphid abundance was low across the season, however organic cereal fields had significantly greater aphid abundance. From the 1446 aphids screened we detected 12 parasitoid taxa. There was no difference in parasitism rate between the farming systems (org. mean mortality 20.9 ± 3.3% s.e., con. 29.8 ± 4.9%). Furthermore, there was no difference between farming systems in hyperparasitoid attack and multiparasitism rates, parasitoid richness and parasitoid community diversity. The most abundant species recorded on organic and conventional farms was the generalist aphid primary parasitoid Ephedrus plagiator. It appears that the extra plant diversity and greater area of semi-natural habitats on organic farms offer no advantage for increasing cereal aphid parasitoid diversity, at least at the aphid abundances encountered during the sampling period.
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