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Forget pesticides: Vineyards can use natural predation methods to control pests

Friday, December 23, 2011 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: vineyards, pesticides, pest control


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(NaturalNews) Conventional agriculture is heavily dependent on the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides to control pests and protect crops. But researchers from the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) have made an interesting discovery about natural predation that could eliminate the need for these synthetic pest management interventions in grape vineyards.

Predation is a natural pest management system based upon the idea that when there is a healthy balance between predator birds and their bug and insect prey, the predators will effectively manage the pests by killing and eating them. And as the predators continually feed on the pests, they will naturally thrive and perpetuate a healthy and continuous cycle of natural pest management.

But the use of man-made chemical and other artificial pest management systems has thwarted the predation balance by eliminating the pests before the predators can get to them -- and in some cases, these interventions also eliminate the predators. As a result, predator populations have declined, which has created an ever-worsening dependency on artificial pest management techniques to protect crops.

Published in the online journal PLoS ONE, a study on this predation conundrum conducted by Julie Jedlicka and her colleagues sought to identify ways by which the natural predation balance could be restored. They found that when simple nest boxes were placed in vineyards, predator bird populations increased significantly.

According to study data, vineyards with nest boxes effectively saw a 50 percent increase in the number of avian species compared to vineyards without them. Insectivorous bird populations also jumped by nearly 400 percent as a result of nest boxes, while Western Bluebird populations increased by nearly 1,000 percent.

"Insectivorous birds are often overlooked as sources of pest predation," said Jedlicka concerning her team's findings. "However, they are likely providing pest control services in many agricultural fields, we just need to look for it."

At the same time, the nest boxes did not spur a noticeable increase in avian populations prone to eating grapes or otherwise damaging crops. So vintners who utilize nest boxes can get the best of both worlds, and also can reduce or eliminate their need for chemical pesticides and herbicides.

"These results suggest an effective method for vineyards to simultaneously protect their crop and encourage avian conservation," says the study announcement.

Sources for this article include:

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-...

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