Biological control of insect pests—where “natural enemies” keep pests at bay—is saving farmers in Asia and the Pacific region billions of dollars, according to researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia.
Dr. Kris Wyckhuys from UQ’s School of Biological Sciences said biological control involved the careful release of an exotic natural enemy from a pest’s native habitat.
“Scientists meticulously choose co-evolved beneficial insects that are the most effective and least likely to pose ecological upsets,” Dr. Wyckhuys said. “We’ve reviewed how biological control introductions have effectively managed 43 insect pests in food, feed and fiber crops in the Asia-Pacific region over a century.”
The team found that biological control has helped regulate invasive pest threats in multiple key food crops such as banana, breadfruit and coconut.
“Our work shows these techniques are saving farmers in Asia around $20.1 billion to $26.8 billion (US$14.6-19.5 billion) per year,” Dr. Wyckhuys said. “That’s a phenomenal amount of money and benefit, particularly when compared to other innovations in the agricultural sector.
“A good point of comparison is the Green Revolution in Asia during the late 1960s, which tripled the output of local rice production but also saw a rise of chemical fertilizers, agrochemicals, and newer methods of cultivation.”
UQ’s Associate Professor Michael Furlong said recognition of the success of biological control might lead to greater uptake and more resilient, prosperous farming globally.
“Biological control offers great opportunities for some of the world’s poorest farmers,” Dr. Furlong said. “It’s promoted rural growth and prosperity even in marginal, poorly endowed, non-rice environments.
Dr. Furlong cited the example of the coconut scale (Aspidiotus destructor), which threatened crops like coconut, bananas and copra industries in Fiji in the early 1900s.
Lady beetles from Trinidad and parasitic wasps were introduced, and coconut scale ceased to be an economic issue on all of the main Fijian islands within nine months.
“These innovative approaches, with increasingly better science, are helping feed the world, safeguard on-farm biodiversity and increase farmers’ quality of life.
“We’re hoping this research provides lessons for future efforts to mitigate invasive species, restore ecological resilience, and sustainably increase the output of our global food system,” Dr. Furlong said.
Source: University of Queensland
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