Vision and Research Goals
Our research program is based on the premise that truly sustainable biological control as well as other pest management practices must be incorporated as a component of agricultural systems. We must go beyond replacing toxic chemicals with more sophisticated, biologically based agents and re-examine the entire paradigm surrounding the interventionist approach, to include how and why those interventions are made. For example, in keeping with the historical therapeutic-based attitude and existing infrastructure, most concentrated efforts for biological control appear to be directed toward the augmentation method of "rear and release" with much less emphasis placed on the conservation-based approach of fostering the presence and effectiveness of indigenous populations of natural enemies. This order of priorities should be reversed. Truly satisfactory and lasting solutions to modern pest problems will require a shift to understanding and promoting the inherent strengths of the total agricultural ecosystems, and designing our cropping systems so that these natural forces keep the pests within acceptable bounds (#57 Lewis et al., 1997). The figure below illustrates the type shift we advocate.
A good understanding of natural enemies and the factors that govern their interactions with other components of agroecosystems is vital to the development of such approaches.
This figure illustrates the idea of total system approach to pest management through a greater use of inherent strengths based on a good understanding of interactions within an ecosystem while using therapeutics only as backups. The red rectangle on the left reflects the unstable condition under heavy reliance on pesticides, and the green rectangle to the right reflects sustainable qualities of a total system strategy (#57 Lewis et al., 1997).
In our studies the larval parasitoids, Microplitis croceipes, Cotesia marginiventris, and Cardiochiles nigriceps and the egg parasitoid, Trichogramma spp. have served as models for elucidating factors regulating the tritrophic interactions of parasitoids, herbivores and plants, and advancing new pest management approaches based on this knowledge (#102 Lewis et al., 1990; #89 Tumlinson et al., 1992).
Our research is directed toward understanding and managing the interactions of plants, herbivores and natural enemies as a part of an integrated cropping system for maximum long-term net benefits. The studies are proceeding along four lines:
Improved knowledge and use of inherent crop attributes;
Development of biorational therapeutic products more complimentary to the inherent strengths of the cropping system;
Better habitat management practices such as cover crops and conservation tillage;
Development of more refined, practical monitoring and decision making tools that better utilize beneficial insects.
Part of this research is conducted within a multidisciplinary/multiagency project involving soil and plant scientists, extension personnel, agricultural consultants and grower cooperators.
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