Location: Pest Management Research Unit
Project Number: 3032-22000-016-00
Start Date: Jan 03, 2011
End Date: Sep 30, 2015
Insects are key constraints in crops and rangelands. Rangeland is a fundamental resource for the beef industry, with grasshoppers frequently affecting food security on all inhabited continents. Wheat and alfalfa rank as the third and fourth most important crops grown in the U.S. ARS stakeholders have identified grasshoppers and Mormon crickets in rangeland, and wheat stem sawfly and alfalfa weevil in cropping systems as high priority pests. Current control strategies for these pests are inadequate, costly and result in unacceptable environmental impacts. Pest management in the modern era has generally focused on suppressive tactics, primarily via chemical means. However, the increasing reliance on agrochemical inputs in modern agriculture has led to public concerns over safety and environmental impacts. Ecologically based pest management approaches attempt to address these concerns by moving beyond the chemical paradigm, to develop safer and more sustainable control. This project focuses on generating the biological and ecological knowledge necessary to achieve the ultimate goal of developing ecologically-based and economically practical management strategies that maintain pest populations at sub-economic levels via biological and cultural means. A sound understanding of insect pest ecology will form the basis for predicting when an insect will be a pest, understanding pest impacts, and determining whether prevention or intervention will be necessary and/or effective. Long-term sustainable solutions to pest problems will only be achieved by restructuring and managing agricultural and rangeland systems in innovative and novel ways that maximize built-in preventive strengths or negatively affect pest population dynamics. In situations where preventive strategies are overcome or consistently ineffective, developing novel biological intervention tools becomes paramount to provide critically needed alternatives to pesticide-based control. In order to increase predictability of grasshopper and Mormon cricket outbreaks and assess their ecological impacts, we will investigate responses to changing climate conditions, and evaluate the effects of grasshoppers on competition between exotic and native rangeland plants. We will also develop novel, preventive strategies that either work against pest fitness in rangeland or render cropping systems less vulnerable to pest problems via the augmentation of natural enemies. Finally, we will develop innovative ways to intervene and control pests when preventive barriers are overcome, including investigations of Mormon cricket and grasshopper susceptibility to pathogens to enhance the efficacy of these natural enemies, and to identify new biocontrol agents to expand the biological arsenal to disrupt growth of wheat stem sawfly, grasshopper, and Mormon cricket populations. This research will fundamentally expand the knowledge base necessary to develop effective, ecologically-based pest management solutions, promoting food security while decreasing energy inputs and environmental impacts.