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Active management of wildflower strips in commercial sweet cherry orchards enhances natural enemies and pest regulation services

Mateos-Fierro, Z. ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6970-6533, Fountain, M. T., Garratt, M. P. D., Ashbrook, K. and Westbury, D. B. (2021) Active management of wildflower strips in commercial sweet cherry orchards enhances natural enemies and pest regulation services. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 317. 107485. ISSN 0167-8809

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2021.107485

Abstract/Summary

To protect sweet cherry (Prunus avium L.) against pests in commercial orchards, pesticides are frequently used, but some have adverse environmental impacts. Natural enemies can deliver protection against pests but compared to the surrounding non-crop habitat their abundance is usually low in intensively managed agricultural systems. Wildflower interventions established for Conservation Biological Control as part of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can reinstate habitat for natural enemies within cropped areas and enhance natural pest control. Over a three-year period, this more sustainable approach to crop protection was investigated in eight sweet cherry orchards protected under polytunnels in the West Midlands (UK). Wildflower strips were established in alleyways between rows of cherry trees and managed under two cutting regimes, Standard Wildflower Strips (SWS) (a single cut in late September) and Actively Managed Wildflower Strips (AMWS) (regularly cut to a height of 20 cm throughout the growing season). These were compared to unsown Control Strips (CS) (original vegetation dominated by grass species). To investigate natural enemy populations and pest regulation services, direct search, Vortis suction sampling, beat sampling, and aphid bait cards were used. Araneae (40.0% of records) and parasitoid wasps (22.7%) were the most frequent natural enemies recorded in alleyways, whilst Anystidae (51.8%) and Araneae (20.8%) were most abundant on cherry trees. Wildflower treatments almost doubled the abundance of natural enemies in alleyways, and increased abundance in cherry trees by ~15% compared to the CS. Wildflower strips increased predation of aphids (bait cards) in cherry trees by 25%. No difference in natural enemy abundance, richness or pest control was recorded between the two wildflower management regimes. Differences in natural enemy abundance and predation rates were detected despite the continued use of pesticides by growers (an average of 5.4 (± 0.4) applications per orchard per year). This study demonstrates that creating wildflower habitat in commercial sweet cherry orchards under polytunnels can boost natural enemies and the associated pest regulation services. Relative to CS, the novel grower-friendly approach of maintaining wildflower strips at a height of 20 cm with regular cutting increased flower resource availability and pest regulation services, demonstrating the potential for growers to adopt this approach as part of a robust IPM strategy.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development > Biodiversity, Crops and Agroecosystems Division > Centre for Agri-environmental Research (CAER)
ID Code:98108
Publisher:Elsevier

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