Impacts of cover crops and tillage on predator-prey interactions within organic cropping systems
Reducing synthetic chemical inputs and tillage can have numerous benefits in agroecosystems, such as building soil health, promoting biodiversity, and reducing environmental effects of pesticides. In addition to these benefits, low-disturbance cropping systems may also enhance predator communities and the potential for predators to suppress pests. While tillage can kill or disrupt invertebrates, planting a winter cover crop may help sustain invertebrate communities by providing habitat and nutritional resources. This work will complement an ongoing study investigating soil and cover crop management practices on invertebrates within a reduced-tillage organic cropping systems experiment. We will measure crop damage from invertebrates, characterize invertebrate communities, and measure predation rate of insects in corn plots undergoing four different crop management strategies. This work will identify the contributions of key predators within these cropping systems and allow us to understand which management practices most effectively enhance predation and suppress damage from pests.
Objective 1: Characterize and compare pest and beneficial soil-associated invertebrate communities in four organic corn production systems designed to reduce tillage and incorporate cover crops
Objective 2: Assess pest damage to corn in four organic corn production systems designed to reduce tillage and incorporate cover crops
Objective 3: Evaluate biological control potential of predatory invertebrates in four organic corn production systems designed to reduce tillage and incorporate cover crops
Objective 4: Communicate results from this and other research projects focused on reducing tillage and incorporating cover crops through presentations, informational handouts, and presentations at scientific and grower conferences.
Objectives 1-3 rely on sampling and data collection during the crop production season so work is currently in the planning phase for the 2017 field season. This project builds upon an existing project investigating the effects of cover crops and reduced tillage on soil nutrient cycling, agronomic performance, weed management, and early-season invertebrate pests. I am actively attending meetings related to this larger existing project. Objective 4 is in progress and will continue to develop as I collect data for this project in 2017.
July 2016: I received notice that my proposal had been funded.
August 2016-October 2016: I worked with Northeast SARE and Pennsylvania State University’s grant offices to coordinate dispersal of grant funds and complete necessary contract paperwork.
October 2016: Funds became available.
November 2016-December 2016: Most of the equipment to carry out objectives 1-3 has now been purchased. Remaining equipment will be purchased in early 2017.
In early 2017, I will assemble camera equipment and other tools for studying predation in Objective 3. Captive insects will be used in the lab to test and troubleshoot proposed methods to ensure that I will succeed in collecting data during the 2017 field season. I look forward to the arrival of the 2017 field season so that data collection for this project can begin.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
At this time, impacts and contributions from this project are limited since work has not officially begun. I plan to attend at least one event in January 2017 and two in February 2017 that will enable me to interact with farmers and other stakeholders. Through these events, I hope to better assess the needs of these stakeholders regarding pest management and biological control. This will allow me to target my extension documents and presentations to incorporate my own data and existing information.
Professor of Entomology
Pennsylvania State University
501 ASI Building
Department of Entomology
University Park, PA 16802