- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Persimmons, asparagus, figs and other crops distantly related to native California plants attract fewer pests and diseases than the closer kin, and thus receive fewer pesticide treatments, according to a newly published article by two UC Davis-linked scientists in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Co-authors Ian Pearse, research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and a UC Davis alumnus, and Jay Rosenheim, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, analyzed the 2011-2015 state records of pesticide applications of 93 major California crops.
“We hypothesized that California crops that lack close relatives in the native flora will be attacked by fewer herbivores and pathogens and require less pesticide use,” said Rosenheim, a 32-year member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty and a newly elected fellow of the Entomological Society of America.
Rosenheim and Pearse examined the pesticide applications against arthropods, pathogens, and weed plants and compiled the data into a comprehensive analysis.
Their findings appear in the PNAS article, “Phylogenetic Escape from Pests Reduces Pesticides on Some Crop Plants,” published Oct. 12. “Phylogenetic relationship” refers to the relative times in the past that species shared common ancestors.
“In contrast, our study focuses on the roughly half of all herbivores and diseases that attack California crops and that are actually native to California. These organisms originally attacked members of the native California flora, but have now shifted to attack a novel host: the crop plant.”
However, “host shifts aren't always easy,” Rosenheim said. “It's relatively easy to shift to attack a close relative of a native host plant, but it's relatively hard to shift to attack a very different host plant.”
Said Pearse: “Our study shows that crops like dates, asparagus, figs, kiwis, or persimmons that are distantly related to native California plants--and thus separated by many million years of independent evolution-- are colonized by fewer pests and diseases.”
"The crops that require the most pesticide applications, Pearse said, "are those, like artichokes, blackberries, and sweet corn, that have close relatives in the Californian flora and are of high economic value per acre."
California's top agricultural crops include almonds, grapes, lettuce, strawberries, tomatoes and walnuts.
Rosenheim said persimmons are a good example “of the phenomenon we've studied: they have very, very few pests--almost zero in my experience--and that's probably because persimmons have no close relatives in the California native plant community.”
Pearse, a 2005 Fulbright scholar who received his doctorate in ecology from UC Davis in 2011, studying with Professor Rick Karban, joined the U.S. Geological Survey in Fort Collins in 2016. He focuses his research on invasive species and plant-insect interactions. Rosenheim researches insect ecology, with a focus on host-parasitoid, predator-prey, and plant-insect interactions, with direct applications to biological control.
“Pesticides are a ubiquitous (found everywhere) component of conventional crop production but come with considerable economic and ecological costs. We tested the hypothesis that variation in pesticide use among crop species is a function of crop economics and the phylogenetic relationship of a crop to native plants, because unrelated crops accrue fewer herbivores and pathogens. Comparative analyses of a dataset of 93 Californian crops showed that more valuable crops and crops with close relatives in the native plant flora received greater pesticide use, explaining roughly half of the variance in pesticide use among crops against pathogens and herbivores. Phylogenetic escape from arthropod and pathogen pests results in lower pesticides, suggesting that the introduced status of some crops can be leveraged to reduce pesticides.”
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
The research, involving 900 butterfly and moth species and 459 non-native plants in Europe, may lead to better screening of potential invasive plants, risk assessment, and pest management strategies, said researchers Ian Pearse and Florian Altermatt.
“Despite the growing prevalence of non-native plants, there are few effective tools for predicting the fate of non-native plants or their impacts on native communities,” they wrote in newly published research, “Predicting Novel Trophic Interactions in a Non-Native World,” in Ecology Letters. “We demonstrated that novel interactions between herbivores and non-native plants can be predicted based on plant evolutionary relationships and properties in the native herbivore-plant food web.”
“My work has asked why some non-native plants are attacked by native herbivores while others are not,” said Pearse, who completed the research while studying for his doctorate degree in entomology at UC Davis. He teamed with Altermatt, then a UC Davis postdoctoral scholar with UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy. Pearse is now a postdoctoral researcher in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Altermatt is with the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland.
“We noticed that many non-native plants were included as hosts of native moths in that food web,” Pearse said, “and we thought that we could use some of the ideas that I had been working on to explain which moths have started to eat which non-native plants.”
“Herbivores, by in large, are not very adventurous in what they eat,” Pearse said. “So, when a non-native plant enters their habitat, they tend to colonize those that are similar to the ones that they already eat. Plant evolutionary relationships are one of the best ways of looking at similarity between plants.”
They successfully predicted the majority of novel interactions between herbivores and non-native plants. “When non-native plants enter a new ecosystem, their success and effects are mostly unpredictable,” Pearse said. “However, we showed that one very predictable aspect of a non-native plant is which native herbivores can colonize it.”
For instance, the larvae of the cinnabar moth (family Tyriajacobaeae), are a biocontrol agent of ragworts (Senecio), a native of Europe, but they also will colonize other plants. A geometrid moth, Eupithecia virganreata feeds on various ragworts but over the last decades, has extended its diet to invasive goldenrods (Solidago canadensis and S. gigantea).
On the basis of interactions between native hosts and insects, the researchers found “specific diet extensions of potential European pest insects to plants of forestry or agricultural interest introduced from North America, as well as the diet extension of European insects onto non-native plants that are of invasive concern.”
“The goal of this approach is to correctly identify specific important interactions between a novel plant and native herbivore with the lowest possible false-positive rate, where a null model would result in a 50% false-positive rate,” they wrote. “For example, we predicted that the tussock moth (Calliteara pudibunda) colonizes red oak (Quercus rubra; a common introduced tree throughout Europe) with a false-positive rate of only 0.7%. The tussock moth is an herbivorous insect of forestry concerns, having mass-outbreaks, and it is thus critical to understand its diet extension to novel host plants. Similarly, we predicted that the specialist Sessiid moth Synanthedon tipuliformis colonizes Ribes aureum, a cultivated gooseberry introduced from North America, with a false-positive rate of only 2.0%. S. tipuliformis is known to cause damage in agricultural gooseberry plantations, and an accurate prediction of host switch to introduced agricultural gooseberries is thus economically important.”
Pearse received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis in 2011, studying with major professor Rick Karban. Pearse's current research at Cornell “is trying to understand masting in oak trees; that is why and how trees produce very large seed sets in some years but small ones in others.”