Insect natural enemies play a key role for pest control in sustainable farming systems, however relatively little is understood regarding the trophic relationships within the natural enemy community and their effect on the level of biological control. The pro posed project addresses this lack of knowledge, as it will quantify arthropod predation on parasitized hosts by using, for the first time, a molecular approach. This will enable us to track the effects of predation on quantitative parasitoid food webs in organic and conventional farming systems and reveal the impact of the predators on the level of pest control.
There are three main objectives to this research program:
1. To establish a molecular method for detecting parasitoid DNA within predators that has eaten parasitized hosts. Furthermore, rapid screening techniques will be evaluated for their utility to make the task of screening large numbers of field samples rapidly easier.
2. To screen field-collected predators for DNA of parasitoids and their hosts.
3. To compare parasitism rates with predation rates on parasitized hosts in organic and conventional farms, and quantify the effects of predation on quantitative parasitoid food webs.
If predators are selectively taking parasitized hosts this may actually inhibit t he rate of growth of the parasitoids population and have negative consequences for pest control. The outcomes of this project will provide an important proof of concept for further research looking at the effects of predator-parasitoid interactions on natural pest control. The applicant will benefit greatly from the period of advanced training as (i) the host institution is at the fore front internationally in this research field, (ii) high quality infrastructure is available for the execution of the project and ( iii) the project is highly complementary to the applicant's own scientific research priorities and interests.
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