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. 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. 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. We have identified 23 native plant species that attracted more natural enemies than grass alone and attracted fewer potential pest insects than natural enemies. We directly assisted two farmers with incorporating native perennial plants into their farming systems. From 2004 to the present, we have participated in 25 workshops and talks on how to enhance biocontrol with native plants, with a total audience of greater than 1300 agricultural professionals, farmers, scientists, and conservation practitioners. In 2005, our website received 1478 hits/month, a rate that more than doubled in 2006 to 3608 hits/month (43,300 total in 2006). Via continued talks and workshops, extension bulletin distribution, and our website, we will continue to educate these groups. In the intermediate-term, we are sharing our vision of reintroducing native flowering perennials in the landscape. This has potential in the long-term to increase biological control and 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.
Objective 1. Design and test native plant species and communities to enhance insect and weed biological control.
Native plants were established at the MSU Entomology Research Farm, at Wildtype Native Plant Nursery, and on farms throughout Michigan. Design and testing of native plant habitats for biological control included single-species and plant community evaluations to support on-farm trials. Forty-three species of native perennial forbs (herbaceous broadleaf plants) and shrubs were established in September 2003 and will be tested to determine their attractiveness and suitability to predator and parasitoid communities. Plots are 10 ft2 rectangular blocks with appropriate plant spacing to produce a full canopy for each species and separated by 12’ buffer of mown orchardgrass between plots. These plots provide a matrix in which the attractiveness of individual species can be evaluated in relationship to each other. Each species is replicated five times in a completely randomized design covering four acres. Single-species evaluations were conducted on the MSU site in 2005 and 2006 growing seasons. A fencerow planting was established at Wildtype Native Plant Nursery to compare the success of seeding and planting plug material, and to envision how native plantings function at scales greater than our 10 ft2 experimental blocks of individual plant species. On farm trials were initiated in 2004 and continued in 2005 and 2006 on the Richard Stuckey and Gene Vogel farms, both mid-Michigan organic growers, on a total of 2.5 acres.
Objective 2. Develop research-based sources of information on native plant materials and their use in pest management.
In January 2007, a 6-page Michigan Extension bulletin, entitled Attracting Beneficial Insects with Native Flowering Plants (No. E-2973) was printed. It has been distributed to over 33 individuals representing 27 conservation, extension, and farming groups. In addition, it has been disseminated to over 100 individual farmers and master gardeners directly via talks. We will be distributing the bulletin in electronic format (in PDF) to county land managers across Michigan. This method will reach most of Michigan’s 52,000 farms and is intended to stimulate farmer awareness and interest in the project. This brochure also directs readership to our website where a full set of information is available.
Our website, housed and maintained within the MSU Integrated Pest Management (MSU IPM) Program, is a central hub for the dissemination of project information. The MSU IPM group has extensive experience in communications design and manages websites that receive over 950,000 hits per year. The website on native plants and beneficial insects is now contributing to this number, with 43,000 hits in 2006. Our website includes fact sheets on beneficial insect attraction to individual plant species, as well as the habitats these species tolerate and their growth habit, bloom period, and native range. In addition, it includes information on natural enemy and pollinator insects, as well as native perennial plant establishment. The website is a portal of information on plant material sources, and links to partner agencies, including native plant producers of Michigan.
Objective 3. Link native plant and crop producers with conservation educators through educational events designed to enhance use of native plants in agricultural systems.
Person to person interaction in on-farm learning environments is a proven technique for increasing dissemination of information. Promoting farmer-to-farmer interactions, including native plant producers meeting with crop producers, is a key goal of our project. We held three regionally-advertised annual field days (2004-06) as a part of this project.
In June 2006 we seeded a third acre of farmland at our two farmer cooperators’ to native plants. We used a mixture of 28 forb and five grass species that were chosen based on two seasons of field research. We evaluated the 2006 plantings through September and compared them to fall 2004 and spring 2005 plantings to determine the number of species germinated and rate of establishment from seed. In summer 2006, we saw seedlings of 19 of 28 native perennial species that were seeded in 2005. We also determined that at the two organic farms that were seeded with native plants, weed pressure in spring led to less successful fall seeding than summer seeding.
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).
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
In 2006, we expanded the website (www.ipm.msu.edu/plants/home.htm) to include information on all 51 plant species. We updated the results for each plant species and highlighted the 23 most attractive plant species for attracting beneficial insects. The site received 3608 hits/month in 2006 (43,300 total), more than double the rate in 2005.
In August 2006 we held our third on site field day on the project. The field day was put on in collaboration with native plant producers, extension, USDA NRCS personnel, and farmers and over 115 participants attended. New content for the 2006 field day included updated results and an on-site native plant seeding demonstration.
During 2006, we presented talks on research findings at four extension talks (total of 285 attendees) a workshop on pollinators and native plants (over 50 attendees), and at the national Entomology meeting (over 35 attendees).
In January 2007, a 6-page Michigan Extension bulletin, entitled Attracting Beneficial Insects with Native Flowering Plants (No. E-2973) was printed. It has been distributed to over 33 individuals representing 27 conservation, extension, and farming groups. In addition, it has been disseminated to over 150 individual farmers and master gardeners directly via talks. We will be distributing the bulletin in electronic format (in PDF) to county land managers across Michigan.
In 2007, we have already presented research outcomes in extension meeting forums and will continue to do so. Our website will be further enhanced with information on native pollinators and on how to establish native plants.
Michigan State University
E. Lansing, MI 48824