- Crop Production: cropping systems, pollination
- Education and Training: extension, on-farm/ranch research
- Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement
- Pest Management: biological control, integrated pest management
- Production Systems: agroecosystems
- Sustainable Communities: quality of life
Crops cultivated in isolation from other plants usually need supplemental measures to combat pests and to provide pollination. We wanted to find out if the use of insectary plants of different types (native vs. non-native) could enhance the diversity and abundance of beneficial insects in the vicinity of the crop plants. Our goal was to test the potential of the native perennial legume of pine rocklands in south Florida, Senna chapmanii, as an insectary plant in the cultivation of both vegetable crops and fruit trees.
Field experiments were conducted growing two vegetable crops (tomato and collards) with and without the companion plants in an experimental array. A different design was used for fruit trees already established in orchards, placing potential beneficial plants beneath certain trees, and not beneath others. In both experiments, insects were monitored on the crops as well as on the companion plants to determine how many and what types of insects were present.
Our preliminary inspection of the data suggest that Senna chapmanii grow well and serve as good insectary plants, equal to if not better than the non-native insectary plants frequently used in sustainable agriculture. These plants provide extrafloral nectar throughout the year to attract a wide array of arthropods, many of which are pollinators, predator,s and parasitoids. Their bright yellow flowers also attract pollen-collecting bees and other insects that may be more likely to pollinate the crops.
Our project addresses the introduction of native plants as an alternative to bolster beneficial insect populations in agroecosystems. We hope to show that native perennial plants can provide resources for beneficial insects to enhance biotic pollination and natural pest control in agroecosystems.
Enhancing the food web structure through increased diversity and establishment of beneficial insects should enable crops to allocate their energy on fruit and vegetable yield, reducing chemical input, thus affecting associated cost of production. Because natural areas overlap with agricultural areas in south Florida, this project encourages conservation outside protected areas by integrating native threatened species to agricultural systems.