Perennial habitat fragments, parasitoid diversity and parasitism in ephemeral crops
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- Agricultural intensification has led to the removal of semi-wild, perennial vegetation in agricultural landscapes. However, in short-cycle crops, frequent disturbance from insecticides, harvesting and tillage disrupts the establishment of resident communities of natural enemies of pests. Semi-wild perennial vegetation may provide critical habitat for mobile arthropods supporting ecosystem services and sustainable agriculture.
- We sampled tachinid parasitoids, an important taxon for biological control of vegetable pests, in 35 organic farm fields situated within a mosaic of agricultural, residential and preserved lands in coastal California. Using a GIS, we characterized land-use and vegetative cover within 500 and 1500 m, including grasslands, chaparral, oak woodlands and coniferous forests.
- The abundance and species richness of tachinid flies captured in Malaise traps in spring and summer were positively associated with the cover of semi-wild perennial vegetation, especially in mesic habitats. The effective number of tachinid species (eH) was correlated positively with semi-wild perennial vegetation cover and negatively with annual crop cover in the landscape in September and May.
- The richness of parasitoids emerging from sentinel lepidopteran pests exposed on potted plants within farm fields was negatively associated with annual cropland cover. Parasitism rates dropped precipitously as percentage annual crop cover exceeded species-specific thresholds.
- Synthesis and applications. Maintaining semi-wild, perennial habitat fragments as refugia to support parasitoids can increase biodiversity and provide ecosystem services in annual and short-cycle crop fields. Our results indicated that crop pests escaped parasitism by two important tachinid species in landscapes with greater than 38% and 51% cover of annual cropland, respectively. Landscape-level research is critical for integrating science and policy to conserve biodiversity, promote sustainable agroecosystems and evaluate new anti-wildlife vegetation removal campaigns that may harm biological control agents while targeting microbial food contamination.