In our previous article, What is Integrated Pest Management (IPM)?, we discussed what Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is and the four controls used in IPM programs to treat and prevent pest issues within your landscape. These four controls are: biological, mechanical, cultural and chemical. Some of these controls are fairly self explanatory and easily understood. For example, pulling weeds by hand would be considered a cultural control. However, one control that is not as widely understood (and requires a special understanding or background before implementation) is biological control. So, today I would like to discuss in greater detail what a biological control is and how it may be used in your Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program.
Biological Controls: A Brief Overview
Biological controls are organisms already naturally present in nature that serve the purpose of creating balance and population control. These controls consist of a pests’ natural enemies (i.e., predators, pathogens, parasites and competitors). Biological controls are not used to completely eradicate a pest. Rather, they are used to suppress the pest populations to tolerable levels that are least damaging.
Three Types of Biological Controls
There are three distinct methods in which biological controls may be used to help suppress pests. These methods include: importation, augmentation and conservation.
The idea behind this concept is that many organisms which we refer to as “pests” were introduced into new environments, either accidentally or on purpose, by humans. Therefore, these pests originated elsewhere and were then transported to a new environment where their natural enemies were not present.
So what happens when these new organisms or species find themselves in a non-native environment? If they are well-suited for their new environment, they will thrive and often take over the habitats of native species. Without their natural enemies present, the pests’ population will explode. This will disrupt the natural balance of predator and prey and wreak havoc on the ecosystem.
How do we regain balance? In order to control the new species population, its’ natural enemies must be introduced into the environment. This means carefully researching the pests present in the landscape and introducing a very specific pest predator that will ensure only the target pest will be attacked, then release the predator into the landscape.
Augmentation refers to the use of commercially available bio control organisms added to the already naturally occurring population of beneficial organisms. This method entails correctly identifying the pest, purchasing the appropriate bio control agent, then releasing it on the landscape. One example of this would be the use of beneficial ladybugs to control pests, such as aphids and weevils. Keep in mind that there are many different species of ladybug and not all are considered beneficial. This is where consulting a trained professional will come in handy.
Most of the potential pest population is already being suppressed by the large abundance of natural enemies currently present, in the surrounding environment. Taking this into account, it is not always necessary to introduce more. However, we do take steps to conserve the pre-existing natural enemies.
What steps can be taken to conserve natural enemies in your landscape?
One technique we use to conserve and encourage natural enemies is by monitoring both the pest populations and the natural enemy populations. We track the number of organisms present at regular intervals, in order to monitor for population changes. For example, if the natural enemy population is increasing more rapidly than the pest population, we may determine that the pests will soon be suppressed naturally and may require no further intervention on our part.
- Controlling Chemical Usage
Chemicals used to help control pests in a landscape can prove useful, however, they can also eliminate the pests’ natural enemies. It is recommend that you use caution when selecting chemicals so they do not harm the pests’ natural enemies, if you decide to use chemicals in and around your landscape .
- Create an Inviting Habitat
In an effort to attract beneficial organisms, or pests’ natural enemies, you may need to create a habitat that is inviting for the organisms. For example, ladybugs are attracted to Marigold ‘Lemon Gem’, so planting a few of these throughout your landscape should encourage these ladybugs to continue populating within your landscape.
The Advantages of Biological Controls
The use of biological controls, within an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program, can be very advantageous. Biological controls may provide a long term solution to pest suppression. In addition, the use of biological controls reduces the need to use chemical pesticides, while reducing pest populations.
Please feel free to leave your comments or questions below. You can email me at info@TreeMedicsFL.com for more information and/or a no obligation tree service consultation.