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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Pest Management and Biological Control Research Unit 

Biological Control

Crop field in the western U.S. harbor a large diversity of arthropod predators and parasitoids that have the potential to contribute significantly to pest population suppression. At the same time, chemical control remains an important production input to growers. The focus of research in the Pest Management and Biocontrol Research Unit is to identify important natural enemies attacking crops pests in arid production area of the western U.S., study their biology and ecology, develop methods for measuring their impact on pest populations, study their susceptibility to new and conventional insecticides, and explore conservation and augmentation strategies for integrating them into existing and developing pest management programs.

Insect Biology and Ecology

A basic understanding of the biology and ecology of insect pests, emerging exotic pests, and their natural enemies is critical to the development of robust pest management strategies. Fundamental knowledge of insect life processes and interactions with their hosts often provides clues to new and novel approaches to pest population regulation or enhancement of natural enemy activity. A broad array of topics is currently being investigated by scientists in the Pest Management and Biocontrol Research Unit from basic studies of insect feeding behavior and nutrition, to examination of pest and natural enemy dispersal, and quantitative descriptions of pest population dynamics. Scientists are also investigating host plant-natural enemy-insect pest interactions and semiochemical, visual, tactile and other methods of inter and intra-species communication as well as understanding the mechanisims and inheritance of pest resistance to transgenic crops. Knowledge gained here will facilitate the development of novel control tactics.


Integrated pest management (IPM) is the melding of tactics as strategic elements of an overall management plan that takes into consideration economic, social and environment interests. Research by the Pest Management and Biocontrol Research Unit explores a broad array of tactics for insect management and has been instrumental in developing and implementing IPM programs for sweetpotato whitefly and pink bollworm in the western U.S. cotton production system. These approaches focus on the fundamentals of IPM including pest and natural enemy sampling, integration of biological and chemical control tactics, and exploration of abiotic and biotic factors that affect crop production and insect population development. These elements are being developed and evaluated for implementation in areawide, multiple-crop agriculture systems in the southwest.

Chemical Control and IRM

Insecticides remain the dominant tactic for pest control in many crops throughout the world. Recent advances have lead to the introduction of a large array of new chemistries, many of which have more limited spectrums of activity and are more compatible with other pest management tactics such as biological control. Research by the Pest Management and Biocontrol Research Unit has been instrumental in testing the efficacy of new and developing products and in evaluating selectivity to natural enemies. Other aspects of the research include evaluation and use of action thresholds, development of chemistry rotations to minimize insecticide resistance, and evaluation of additive antagonistic or synergistic compounds to chemical mixtures on pests and natural enemies.

Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

A basic understanding of the biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology of insect pests, emerging exotic pests, and their natural enemies underlies the development of innovative control tactics that can be integrated into pest management strategies. Fundamental knowledge of gene identity and gene expression can lead to novel methods of disrupting key insect life processes, their ability to preceive their environment and their ability to interact with crop plants and other insects. Knowledge gained here will facilitate the development of novel control tactics.

Last Modified: 5/9/2012
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