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 were 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 identified 23 native plant species that attracted natural enemies and pollinators and assisted two farmers with incorporating these native perennial plants into their farming systems.
From 2004 to the present, we have participated in 31 workshops and talks on how to enhance biocontrol with native plants, with a total audience of greater than 2150 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). In 2007, the impact of the website continued to increase, with 3912 hits/month in the 3rd quarter and 4395 in the fourth quarter. These visits represented visitors from 46 states, 8 Canadian provinces, and over 63 countries in 2007.
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 north central 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 were tested to determine their attractiveness and suitability to predator and parasitoid communities. Plots were 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 provided a matrix in which the attractiveness of individual species could be evaluated in relationship to each other. Each species was 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 – 2007 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. The initial print run of 3000 sold out and as of February 2008 is now in its second printing. It was distributed in electronic format (PDF) to land managers across Michigan. This method can 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. 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 2007, we evaluated fall 2004 and spring 2005 and 2006 plantings on both farmer collaborators’ land and compared them to determine the number of species germinated and rate of establishment from seed. We found from 4 to 15 native plants/ m2 for plantings performed in different years. Seeding success varied more by farm than by year of seeding, with weed pressure playing a major role in the success of planting and soil type affecting which plant species flourished at each farm. In September 2007 we found seedlings or plants of 16 of 28 seeded species at the Stuckey farm and 19 of 28 at the Vogel farm.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
In 2007, we and changed the website address from www.ipm.msu.edu/plants/home.htm to http://nativeplants.msu.edu/. We also added information on plant establishment to the website so that those who wanted to create their own native planting knew how to begin. In addition, we have made a variety of resources available in PDF and Powerpoint format on the website. These include three slide sets we created in 2007 on natural enemies, pollinators, and native plants, respectively. These, the Native Plants and Beneficial Insects bulletin (E-2973), and a talk from the Michigan Small Farms Conference, are downloadable for extension educators and others to use in presentations. The large number of downloads in a 6-month period (4,101) indicate that this is an effective way to increase information dissemination in a meaningful way.
During 2007, we presented our research findings at four extension talks (total of 570 attendees), internationally at the Integrated Pest Management Stakeholders Forum for Central Asia Region in Duschanbe, Tajkistan, (40 attendees) at the 9th International Pollination Symposium on Plant-Pollinator Relationships (100 attendees), at the national Ecology meeting (a poster), and in a webcast through the Stewardship Network (80 on-line attendees).
In January 2007, 3000 copies of a 6-page Michigan Extension bulletin, entitled Attracting Beneficial Insects with Native Flowering Plants (No. E-2973) was printed. The bulletin has been so successful that all 3000 copies in the first printing have already sold. It has now been updated and second printing was recently completed.
In 2007, we wrote a National Research Institute (NRI) grant to perform work looking at the interaction of landscape context and flowering strips on natural enemies and pollinators; an extension of the SARE-funded work. The NRI grant was funded and fieldwork will begin in 2008. We see it as a way to improve habitat management broadly by addressing why habitat management has been yielded mixed results for both natural enemy and pollinator communities in past research.
In 2008, we have already presented research outcomes in extension meeting forums and will continue to do so. Drs. Doug Landis and Rufus Isaacs will present on farmscaping for natural enemies and bees, respectively, at the upcoming SARE National Meeting in Kansas City, Missouri.
Michigan State University
E. Lansing, MI 48824