Biological control is the management of pests and their damage by the beneficial action of parasites (parasitoids), pathogens, and predators. These beneficial organisms, collectively, are named natural enemies.
Conserving (or protecting) and releasing natural enemies are important components of integrated pest management (IPM). In most situations, employing practices that conserve natural enemies is more effective, and less expensive and time consuming, than purchasing and releasing them.
Learn about the specific situations where purchasing and releasing parasites and predators can increase the effectiveness of biological control. Before purchasing natural enemies, consult the University of California (UC) IPM Pest Management Guidelines for that crop to learn whether UC research has shown that releasing them is effective. Some natural enemies on the market have never been demonstrated to effectively control any agricultural pest in California.
Obtaining Natural Enemies
Natural enemies can be purchased directly from various producers (companies that rear them) and suppliers (companies that purchase from producers and repackage and resell them). Some sources of parasites and predators are members of the Association of Natural Biocontrol Producers (ANBP). All ANBP members formally agree to a code of ethics and standardized methods.
Natural enemies purchased by users are commonly delivered via shipping services. Purchase parasites and predators only from in-state providers. It is illegal to obtain insects and other arthropods outside of California and carry or have them shipped across state lines without a permit from agricultural officials. Some pest control advisers and pest scouts will procure and release natural enemies as a service for growers.
Methods for Releasing Natural Enemies
Two methods for releasing natural enemies are inoculation and inundation:
- Inoculation—relatively few natural enemies are released. The offspring of these natural enemies provide biological control, not the individuals released.
- Inundation—large numbers of natural enemies are released, often several times over a growing season. The natural enemies released, and possibly their offspring, provide biological control.
The mealybug destroyer is an example of a natural enemy that is only released through inoculation—at relatively low numbers once per year early in the growing season. Aphytis melinus and Trichogramma parasites are released by inundation—at regular intervals over the growing season—to control California red scale and eggs of pest moths, respectively. Both inoculation and inundation can be used with predatory mites, depending on the situation.
Releasing Natural Enemies Effectively
Releasing natural enemies is most likely to be effective in situations where: 1) University of California researchers or other pest management experts have previously demonstrated success and 2) some level of pests and their damage can be tolerated in that crop. Desperate situations are not good opportunities for releasing natural enemies. Pests or their damage may already be too widespread for any release of parasites or predators to prevent economic loss of crop quality or quantity.
Increase the likelihood that natural enemy releases will be effective by
- Accurately identifying the pest and its natural enemies.
- Learning about the biology of the pest and its natural enemies.
- Releasing the appropriate natural enemy life stage and species.
- Releasing when the pests' vulnerable life stage(s) are present and at numbers that can be controlled by natural enemy releases.
Natural enemies are unlikely to be effective when released as if you were applying a pesticide. Instead, anticipate pest problems and begin making releases before pests are too abundant or economic damage is imminent.
- Remember that natural enemies are living organisms that require food, shelter, and water. Protect them from extreme conditions. For example, release them at night or early in the day during hot weather.
- Avoid applying broad-spectrum, residual (persistent) insecticides and miticides, and in some situations certain systemic or other pesticides, before or after releasing natural enemies. When needed, use pesticides selectively. For example, spot spray only where pests are abundant but localized.
Common reasons for the lack of satisfactory biological control after releases include the
- Application of broad-spectrum, residual insecticides, or in some situations systemic or other pesticides, prior to or after a release.
- Incorrect timing of release.
- Release of the wrong natural enemy for the pest situation.
- Release of a natural enemy species that is known to be ineffective.
For information on the use of biological control, see the UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines for your crop and specific pests. Most crops have a table called “Relative Toxicities of Insecticides and Miticides to Natural Enemies and Honey Bees” in the “General Information” section. Use these resources to guide pesticide selection to conserve natural enemies and improve biological pest control.
- Association of Natural Biocontrol Producers, Clovis, CA
- Grower Guide: Quality Assurance of Biocontrol Products (pdf), Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, Ontario
- Insectary Plants
- Natural Enemies Gallery
- Natural Enemies Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Biological Pest Control
- Protecting Natural Enemies and Pollinators
- UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines
this is a repost from:
Photo: Adult Aphytis melinus parasite laying her egg in California red scale, Aonidiella aurantii. Releases are most effective when ants are controlled, dust is minimized, and broad spectrum pesticide applications are avoided. Credit: Jack Kelly Clark, UC IPM Program/h2>/h2>/h2>/h2>
The Western Integrated Pest Management Center promotes smart, safe and sustainable pest management to protect the people, environment and economy of the American West.
Our vision is a healthier West with fewer pests.
We fund research and outreach to solve pest problems in agriculture, natural areas and communities in 17 Western states and Pacific island territories.
See their latest newsletter at:
Here's what's inside:
- We have a new director! Dr. Amer Fayad will join us in July and we're very happy about it
- How an integrated pest management program helped save Hawaii's coffee industry
- A photographic look at farming on Guam
- And all the jobs, funding opportunities, scholarships, webinar and meeting listings you might need
Home is where the habitat is: This Earth Day, consider installing insectary plants
—Stephanie Parreira, UC Statewide IPM Program
Help the environment this Earth Day, which falls on Sunday April 22 this year, by installing insectary plants! These plants attract natural enemies such as lady beetles, lacewings, and parasitic wasps. Natural enemies provide biological pest control and can reduce the need for insecticides. Visit the new UC IPM Insectary Plants webpage to learn how to use these plants to your advantage.
The buzz about insectary plants
Biological control, or the use of natural enemies to reduce pests, is an important component of integrated pest management. Fields and orchards may miss out on this control if they do not offer sufficient habitat for natural enemies to thrive. Insectary plants (or insectaries) can change that—they feed and shelter these important insects and make the environment more favorable to them. For instance, sweet alyssum planted near lettuce fields encourages syrphid flies to lay their eggs on crops. More syrphid eggs means more syrphid larvae eating aphids, and perhaps a reduced need for insecticides. Similarly, planting cover crops like buckwheat within vineyards can attract predatory insects, spiders, and parasitic wasps, ultimately keeping leafhoppers and thrips under control.
Flowering insectaries also provide food for bees and other pollinators. There are both greater numbers and more kinds of native bees in fields with an insectary consisting of a row of native shrubs planted along the field edge (called a hedgerow). Native bees also stay in fields with these shrubs longer than they do in fields without them. Therefore, not only do insectaries attract natural enemies, but they can also boost crop pollination and help keep bees healthy.
Insectary plants may attract more pests to your crops, but the benefit is greater than the risk
The possibility of creating more pest problems has been a concern when it comes to installing insectaries. Current research shows that mature hedgerows, in particular, bring more benefits than risks. Hedgerows attract far more natural enemies than insect pests. And despite the fact that birds, rabbits, and mice find refuge in hedgerows, the presence of hedgerows neither increases animal pest problems in the field, nor crop contamination by animal-vectored pathogens. Hedgerow insectaries both benefit wildlife and help to control pests.
How can I install insectary plants?
Visit the Insectary Plants webpage to learn how to establish and manage insectary plants, and determine which types of insectaries may suit your needs and situation. If you need financial assistance to establish insectaries on your farm, consider applying for Conservation Action Plan funds from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
- Flower flies (Syrphidae) and other biological control agents for aphids in vegetable crops. (PDF)
- Good news for hedgerows: no effects on food safety in the field.
- Hedgerow benefits align with food production and sustainability goals.
- Habitat restoration promotes pollinator persistence and colonization in intensively managed agriculture. (PDF)
- Reducing the abundance of leafhoppers and thrips in a northern California organic vineyard through maintenance of full season floral diversity with summer cover crops.
Harry S. Smith, was born in 1883 to a poor farming family in Nebraska. He was trained in Biological Control in the northeast U.S.A. where he worked on the biological control of gypsy moth with the USDA. Upon his appointment to Sacramento in 1913 to work on biological control issues important to California, Smith brought recognized entomological training in biological control to California for the first time.
The phrase “Biological Control” was first used by Smith in August 1919 at the meeting of Pacific Slope Branch of the American Association of Economic Entomologists at the Mission Inn in downtown Riverside.
Based on his experiences on biological control of forest and pasture pests, Smith brought caution and tempered exaggeration about biological control in California as he worked with citrus growers and other commodity groups.
In 1923, Smith and four colleagues moved from Sacramento to the University of California Riverside Campus which had evolved from the Citrus Experiment Station (est. 1915) and he formed the Division of Beneficial Insect Investigations which was a unit distinct from the Division of Entomology. Prof. Harry, as he was
affectionately known, is fondly remembered by his students as a patient and generous supervisor who encouraged research and work on applied and
practical aspects of biological control.
Smith went on to create the Department of Biological Control which offered the only graduate training in Biological Control in the world. The Department of Biological Control became the Division of Biological Control in 1969 which then merged into Department of Entomology at UC Riverside in 1988. Prof. Harry had two sons, both trained to be entomologists. Instead of pursuing biological control they went into the pesticide industry and Sam Smith died accidentally from pesticide poisoning. Prof. Harry passed away in 1957 and left UC Riverside $15,000 to develop a scholarship fund to support training and education in biological control. This fund has grown to approximately $45,000 today, but is insufficient to provide meaningful support to students wanting to be trained in biological control.
Our goal is to build the Harry S. Smith Scholarship fund to a significant level where the corpus of the fund will be able to generate enough revenue to provide substantial support to students wanting to be trained in biological control. This can only be achieved by actively soliciting donations from individuals, industries, and organizations that have benefited over the years from biological control projects that have that have been run by UC scientists, in particular entomologists at UC Riverside. If biological control is to continue to prosper in southern California we need to continue recruiting and training high quality students. To do this, we need to be able to provide substantial financial support, and the Harry S. Smith Scholarship is one way to attract excellent students to UC Riverside.
Learn more about the program and how you can push the fund over the top at:
TYPES OF NATURAL ENEMIES
Parasites, pathogens, and predators are the primary groups used in biological control of insects and mites (Table 1). Most parasites and pathogens, and many predators, are highly specialized and attack a limited number of closely related pest species. Learn how to recognize natural enemies by consulting resources such as the Natural Enemies Handbook and the Natural Enemies Gallery.
A parasite is an organism that lives and feeds in or on a host. Insect parasites can develop on the inside or outside of the host's body. Often only the immature stage of the parasite feeds on the host. However, adult females of certain parasites (such as many wasps that attack scales and whiteflies) feed on and kill their hosts, providing an easily overlooked but important source of biological control in addition to the host mortality caused by parasitism.
Although the term “parasite” is used here, true parasites (e.g., fleas and ticks) do not typically kill their hosts. Species useful in biological control, and discussed here, kill their hosts; they are more precisely called “parasitoids.”
Most parasitic insects are either flies (Order Diptera) or wasps (Order Hymenoptera). Parasitic wasps occur in over three dozen Hymenoptera families. For example, Aphidiinae (a subfamily of Braconidae) attack aphids. Trichogrammatidae parasitize insect eggs. Aphelinidae, Encyrtidae, Eulophidae, and Ichneumonidae are other groups that parasitize insect pests. It's important to note that these tiny to medium-sized wasps are incapable of stinging people. The most common parasitic flies are the typically hairy Tachinidae. Adult tachinids often resemble house flies. Their larvae are maggots that feed inside the host.
Natural enemy pathogens are microorganisms including certain bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa, and viruses that can infect and kill the host. Populations of some aphids, caterpillars, mites, and other invertebrates are sometimes drastically reduced by naturally occurring pathogens, usually under conditions such as prolonged high humidity or dense pest populations. In addition to a naturally occurring disease outbreak (epizootic), some beneficial pathogens are commercially available as biological or microbial pesticides. These include Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt, entomopathogenic nematodes, and granulosis viruses. Additionally, some microorganism by-products, such as avermectins and spinosyns are used in certain insecticides; but applying these products is not considered to be biological control.
Predators kill and feed on several to many individual prey during their lifetimes. Many species of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles prey extensively on insects. Predatory beetles, flies, lacewings, true bugs (Order Hemiptera), and wasps feed on various pest insects or mites. Most spiders feed entirely on insects. Predatory mites that feed primarily on pest spider mites include Amblyseius spp., Neoseiulus spp., and the western predatory mite, Galendromus occidentalis.
When resident natural enemies are insufficient, their populations can sometimes be increased (augmented) through the purchase and release of commercially available beneficial species. However, there has been relatively little research on releasing natural enemies in gardens and landscapes. Releases are unlikely to provide satisfactory pest control in most situations. Some marketed natural enemies are not effective. Many natural enemies are generalist predators and are cannibalistic and feed indiscriminately on pest and beneficial species, thereby reducing their effectiveness.
Only a few natural enemies can be effectively augmented in gardens and landscapes. For example, entomopathogenic nematodes can be applied to control certain tree-boring and lawn-feeding insects. Convergent lady beetles (Hippodamia convergens) purchased in bulk through mail order, stored in a refrigerator, and released in very large numbers at intervals can temporarily control aphids; however, lady beetles purchased through retail outlets are unlikely to be sufficient in numbers and quality to provide control.
Successful augmentation generally requires advanced planning, biological expertise, careful monitoring, optimal release timing, patience, and situations where certain levels of pests and damage can be tolerated. Situations where pests or damage are already abundant are not good opportunities for augmentation.
A classic example of poor timing for augmentative release of predatory mites for control of broad mite in coastal lemon or persea mite in avocado is right now. Pest populations for the most part have soared and releasing predatory mites is little help. Predatory mites need to be releases into a small growing population, so in both of these cases it would have been better to start small, frequent releases early and throughout the spring to knock their populations back.