Ecological production functions for biological control services in agricultural landscapes
- Research relating to ecosystem services has increased, partly because of drastic declines in biodiversity in agricultural landscapes. However, the mechanistic linkages between land use, biodiversity and service provision are poorly understood and synthesized. This is particularly true for many ecosystem services provided by mobile organisms such as natural enemies to crop pests. These species are not only influenced by local land use but also by landscape composition at larger spatial scales.
- We present a conceptual ecological production function framework for predicting land-use impact on biological control of pests by natural enemies. We develop a novel, mechanistic landscape model for biological control of cereal aphids, explicitly accounting for the influence of landscape composition on natural enemies varying in mobility, feeding rates and other life history traits. Finally, we use the model to map biological control services across cereal fields in a Swedish agricultural region with varying landscape complexity.
- The model predicted that biological control would reduce crop damage by 45–70% and that the biological control effect would be higher in complex landscapes. In a validation with independent data, the model performed well and predicted a significant proportion of biological control variation in cereal fields. However, much variability remains to be explained, and we propose that the model could be improved by refining the mechanistic understanding of predator dynamics and accounting for variation in aphid colonization.
- We encourage scientists working with biological control to adopt the conceptual framework presented here and to develop production functions for other crop-pest systems. If this kind of ecological production function is combined with production functions for other services, the joint model will be a powerful tool for managing ecosystem services and planning for sustainable agriculture at the landscape scale.