Utilizing Native Plants to Enhance Insect and Weed Biological Control
Many beneficial insects require daily access to plant nectar, pollen, or shelter to prolong their life and enhance reproduction and in turn help control insect and weed pests in adjacent farmlands. The use of native plants to enhance biological control can increase farm sustainability and reduce pesticide use while improving soil, water and biodiversity conservation. This project studies the impacts of native plants on enhancing biological pest control and links farmers, conservation educators and native plant producers with common interests in ecologically-based pest management. Single species and communities of native plants will be evaluated in research plots and on-farm trials to determine their effectiveness in enhancing biological control of key pests. Participants include the owner/operator of a native plant nursery, field crop producers, university research & Extension personnel, USDA NRCS Plant Materials Centers, and state/local Conservation Districts. Our project will identify at least five native plant species that significantly enhance insect or weed biological control, directly assist a minimum of ten farmers to incorporate native plants into their farming systems and educate more than 1000 agricultural professionals and farmers per year on how to enhance biocontrol with native plants. In the intermediate-term, increased biological control will reduce pesticide use in the NC region, improve the economic viability of crop and native plant producers, and enhance the quality of life in rural communities.
The projects objectives are to: 1) Design and test native plant species and communities to enhance insect and weed biological control. 2) Develop research-based sources of information on native plant materials and their use in pest management. 3) Link native plant and crop producers with conservation educators through educational events designed to enhance use of native plants in agricultural systems.
In 2004-05, we conducted research evaluating 46 native perennial and 5 non native annual plant species to determine their attractiveness to natural enemy insects. In 2004, the non-native annual plants frequently attracted more natural enemies than the native perennial plants. In 2005, however, many native perennial plants attracted greater numbers of natural enemies than in 2004 and were more attractive than the non native annuals. In most cases the performance of the non-native plants was similar to that in 2004. With data from the 2004 and 2005 growing seasons, we have selected a subset of the most attractive native plants for future consideration in research and on-farm planting. These include the early season blooming plants sand coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), golden alexanders (Zizia aurea), and penstemon (Penstemon hirsutus), the mid season blooming plants shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa) and meadowsweet (Spiraea alba), and late season blooming plants boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), horsemint (Monarda punctata), Riddell’s goldenrod (Solidago riddellii) and New England aster (Aster novae-angliae).
In August 2005 we held our second annual field day in collaboration with native plant producers, extension, USDA NRCS personnel, and farmers. The morning focused on viewing MSU research plots while the afternoon was spent visiting the site of a local cooperating native plant nursery. The day was attended by over 120 participants representing farmers, native plant producers, master gardeners, university research & Extension personnel, USDA NRCS and state/local Conservation District personnel.
In June 2005 we seeded a second acre of native plants on farmland at our two farmer cooperator sites. We chose a mixture of 25 forb and grass species that held promise based on our first season of field research. We evaluated these plantings through September to determine whether June plantings or plantings performed in November 2004 established better. We saw a total of 8 species germinate in year one, and determined that at the two organic farms, weed pressure in spring led to less successful fall seeding than summer seeding. Both fall and spring plantings will be evaluated in 2006.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
In July 2005 we launched the project web site that includes specific information on natural enemy arthropods and fact sheets on the plants most attractive to natural enemies (www.ipm.msu.edu/plants/home.htm). From July through December 2005 the site received 1478 hits/month
During 2005, we presented three talks on our research findings at two extension meetings (total of 100 attendees), as well as at national and international scientific meetings (total of 350 attendees).
In 2006, we have already presented research outcomes at both extension and scientific meetings. We have expanded our target audience to include natural areas stewardship groups and ecological restorationists. We will maintain our research site and hold another on site field day in summer 2006. We will also be expanding the website to include information on all 51 plant species, as well as information on how to establish native plants.
Michigan State University
E. Lansing, MI 48824