Combining banker plants to achieve long-term pest control in multi-pest and multi-natural enemy cropping systems

Banker plants increase biological pest control by supporting populations of non-pest arthropod species, used as alternative hosts or prey by natural enemies. Due to the specificity of trophic interactions, banker plants may not efficiently promote natural enemies with different ecologies. Yet in most cropping systems, different pest species are present together and require different biocontrol agents to efficiently control them. In the present study, we tested the combined use of two banker plants and their associated prey/host to enhance populations of the specialist parasitoid Encarsia formosa targeting the main tomato pest Bemisia tabaci, and a polyphagous ladybird Propylea japonica targeting the secondary pest Myzus persicae in tomato crops. In a laboratory and a greenhouse experiment, we measured the abundances of these four species using the Ricinus communis—Trialeurodes ricini banker plant system alone, in combination with the Glycines max—Megoura japonica system, or in absence of banker plants. We found that the first banker plant system enhanced populations of E. formosa, resulting in increased suppression of B. tabaci populations and the suppression of their outbreak in both our laboratory and greenhouse experiment. Conversely, abundances of P. japonica were not affected by this first system, but were significantly increased when the second was present. This resulted in increased control of M. persicae populations and the suppression of their early and late outbreaks. Our study demonstrates the potential for combined banker plants to provide long-term, sustainable control of multiple pests by their target natural enemies in complex agroecosystems.

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