Towards sustainable crop pollination and pest control in cropping systems
Historical productivity gains in agriculture to meet the needs of a growing and increasingly wealthy human population have come at the expense of biodiversity losses, but there is increasing evidence that functional important biodiversity underpins long-term agricultural productivity. This indicates that further yield gains or yield stability in the future cannot be achieved using cropping practices that jeopardize important ecosystem services on which agricultural production relies.
The working hypothesis of ecological intensification, the framework in which I place my research, is that high productivity can be combined with minimized environmental impact by promoting multiple ecosystem services that underpin crop production. My research focuses on two ecosystem services supporting crop yield, crop pollination and pest control, and one disservice, pest damage. Animal pollinators, especially bees, contribute to yield increases in three quarters of the world’s most important crops. Approximately 10 percent of global crop yields are lost to animal pests, primarily insects, but a diversity of natural enemies that attack insect pests are limiting this number from being considerably higher. I study beneficial and pest insect interactions with crops and the drivers, management and agronomic impacts of such interactions. While research traditionally focuses on either crop pollination or pest control, I study them in combination due to the frequent interactions between the two services. I put an emphasis on finding practical solutions to applied pest control and pollination problems that farmers face in their crops based on a basic ecological understanding of plant-insect interactions.
Within this research area, I plan to develop collaborative and interdisciplinary research centered on insect-mediated ecosystem services and crop protection in cropping systems. I will conduct needs-driven applied research relating to sustainable crop pollination and pest control in collaboration with stakeholders, primarily public and private crop advisors, grower organizations and farmers. It is critical to address these research needs, as they are of immediate applied importance, yet research focused solely on short-term problem solving will not address underlying factors causing re-occurring pollination or pest control problems, such as growing crops in large monocultures and in simple crop rotations. In a complimentary approach, I therefore plan to collaborate with researchers across disciplines on re-designing cropping systems through diversification using methods such as intercropping, cover cropping and wildlife-friendly farming. Taken together, my research aims to contribute to more sustainable crop pollination and pest control in cropping systems.