The objective of the current proposal is to start a network among the European scientists currently working on the enhancement, dispersal and population dynamics of beneficial insects in sustainable agroecosystems. One of its aims will be to hold workshops and to coordinate the European research now being carried out on this complex subject. The ultimate objective is to ensure the biotic components in integrated farming systems are as affective as possible. The environmental benefit of this research is that it should increase biotic diversity and resilience in agroecosystems and terms and hence reduce the need for pesticides. Agroecosystems can be defined as parts of the landscape which are mainly used for the production of crops. As such the infrastructure may consist of cropped fields, managed grassland, field margins, hedges, roads, tracks and roadsides, ditches and various (semi) natural landscape elements such as woodland. The dynamic nature of agroecosystems is most pronounced in fields that are cultivated frequently, and often ploughed annually, as part of an overall system of crop rotation. Whenever fields are cultivated, treated or disturbed anyway, local numbers of beneficial insects may change drastically and suddenly as the insects move away from unfavourable habitat patches. In addition, many species complete different parts of their life cycle in different parts of the agroecosystem. Hence, the spatial arrangements of suitable habitat patches within this dynamic situation, and the scale of the various elements of the overall system, are crucial to the survival of many beneficial insects.
Whenever attempts are made to study population dynamics in time and space, methods have to be developed for assessing:
a) The quality of the various patches within the habitat.
Patch quality is strongly related to the long and short term management, and obviously influenced considerably by different cropping and farming systems. Quantitative methods are needed that will enable the resources available to beneficial insects to be assessed accurately.
b) The density of insect populations in different environments
Current sampling methods for most beneficial insects are extremely laborious, inaccurate and difficult to use in large scale of mosaics of vegetation. Improvement and standardisation of methods are essential for progress of this subject.
c) Movement and rates of insect dispersal
The benefits to be gained from directional traps, radar tracking and markrecapture techniques need to be evaluated much more rigorously and new methods should be developed.
d) Models that analyse and structure data so that spatial processes can be simulated and displayed on different scales.
Several techniques for analysing and modelling of spatial dynamics have been developed in the last decade. As such these models often require large data sets to show their merits, and may act as a constraint to the kind of data to be collected. Cooperation between theoretical biologists and agroecologists should be encouraged whenever possible.
Funding SchemeCON - Coordination of research actions
AL5 2JQ Harpenden