Agriculture is being challenged to provide food, and increasingly fuel, for an expanding global population. Producing bioenergy crops on marginal lands--farmland suboptimal for food crops--could help meet energy goals while minimizing competition with food production. However, the ecological costs and benefits of growing bioenergy feedstocks--primarily annual grain crops--on marginal lands have been questioned. Here we show that perennial bioenergy crops provide an alternative to annual grains that increases biodiversity of multiple taxa and sustain a variety of ecosystem functions, promoting the creation of multifunctional agricultural landscapes. We found that switchgrass and prairie plantings harbored significantly greater plant, methanotrophic bacteria, arthropod, and bird diversity than maize. Although biomass production was greater in maize, all other ecosystem services, including methane consumption, pest suppression, pollination, and conservation of grassland birds, were higher in perennial grasslands. Moreover, we found that the linkage between biodiversity and ecosystem services is dependent not only on the choice of bioenergy crop but also on its location relative to other habitats, with local landscape context as important as crop choice in determining provision of some services. Our study suggests that bioenergy policy that supports coordinated land use can diversify agricultural landscapes and sustain multiple critical ecosystem services.
The modern delineation of taxonomic groups is often aided by analyses of molecular data, which can also help inform conservation biology. Two subspecies of the butterfly Neonympha mitchellii are classified as federally endangered in the United States: Neonympha mitchellii mitchellii, the Mitchells satyr, and Neonympha mitchellii francisi, the Saint Franciss satyr. The recent discovery of additional disjunct populations of N. mitchellii in the southeastern US could have important implications for both legal protection and management decisions. We elucidated the relationships among 48 individuals representing 5 N. mitchellii populations using 6 molecular markers (5 nuclear and 1 mitochondrial) under a variety of analytical frameworks. Phylogenetic analysis resulted in moderately supported clades that corresponded with the geographic region where samples originated. Clustering analyses identified 3 groups, wherein the 2 named subspecies formed separate clusters. Coalescent analyses indicated evolutionary divergence between N. m. mitchellii and all other populations but weakly supported divergence among N. m. francisi and the recently discovered populations. Hence, the 2 currently accepted subspecies were clearly different from one another, but the recently discovered populations could not be completely distinguished from N. m. francisi or each other. We propose that N. m. mitchellii and N. m. francisi continue to be managed as separate endangered species.
Aphidophagous coccinellids (ladybeetles) are important providers of herbivore suppression ecosystem services. In the last 30 years, the invasion of exotic coccinellid species, coupled with observed declines in native species, has led to considerable interest in the community dynamics and ecosystem function of this guild. Here we examined a 24-year dataset of coccinellid communities in nine habitats in southwestern Michigan for changes in community function in response to invasion. Specifically we analyzed their temporal population dynamics and species diversity, and we modeled the communitys potential to suppress pests. Abundance of coccinellids varied widely between 1989 and 2012 and became increasingly exotic-dominated. More than 71% of 57,813 adult coccinellids captured over the 24-year study were exotic species. Shannon diversity increased slightly over time, but herbivore suppression potential of the community remained roughly constant over the course of the study. However, both Shannon diversity and herbivore suppression potential due to native species declined over time in all habitats. The relationship between Shannon diversity and herbivore suppression potential varied with habitat type: a positive relationship in forest and perennial habitats, but was uncorrelated in annual habitats. This trend may have been because annual habitats were dominated by a few, highly voracious exotic species. Our results indicated that although the composition of the coccinellid community in southwestern Michigan has changed dramatically in the past several decades, its function has remained relatively unchanged in both agricultural and natural habitats. While this is encouraging from the perspective of pest management, it should be noted that losses of one of the dominant exotic coccinellids could result in a rapid decline in pest suppression services if the remaining community is unable to respond.
Agronomic intensification has transformed many agricultural landscapes into expansive monocultures with little natural habitat. A pervasive concern is that such landscape simplification results in an increase in insect pest pressure, and thus an increased need for insecticides. We tested this hypothesis across a range of cropping systems in the Midwestern United States, using remotely sensed land cover data, data from a national census of farm management practices, and data from a regional crop pest monitoring network. We found that, independent of several other factors, the proportion of harvested cropland treated with insecticides increased with the proportion and patch size of cropland and decreased with the proportion of seminatural habitat in a county. We also found a positive relationship between the proportion of harvested cropland treated with insecticides and crop pest abundance, and a positive relationship between crop pest abundance and the proportion cropland in a county. These results provide broad correlative support for the hypothesized link between landscape simplification, pest pressure, and insecticide use. Using regression coefficients from our analysis, we estimate that, across the seven-state region in 2007, landscape simplification was associated with insecticide application to 1.4 million hectares and an increase in direct costs totaling between $34 and $103 million. Both the direct and indirect environmental costs of landscape simplification should be considered in design of land use policy that balances multiple ecosystem goods and services.
Coccinellid communities across North America have experienced significant changes in recent decades, with declines in several native species reported. One potential mechanism for these declines is interference competition via intraguild predation; specifically, increased predation of native coccinellid eggs and larvae following the introduction of exotic coccinellids. Our previous studies have shown that agricultural fields in Michigan support a higher diversity and abundance of exotic coccinellids than similar fields in Iowa, and that the landscape surrounding agricultural fields across the north central U.S. influences the abundance and activity of coccinellid species. The goal of this study was to quantify the amount of egg predation experienced by a native coccinellid within Michigan and Iowa soybean fields and explore the influence of local and large-scale landscape structure. Using the native lady beetle Coleomegilla maculata as a model, we found that sentinel egg masses were subject to intense predation within both Michigan and Iowa soybean fields, with 60.7% of egg masses attacked and 43.0% of available eggs consumed within 48 h. In Michigan, the exotic coccinellids Coccinella septempunctata and Harmonia axyridis were the most abundant predators found in soybean fields whereas in Iowa, native species including C. maculata, Hippodamia parenthesis and the soft-winged flower beetle Collops nigriceps dominated the predator community. Predator abundance was greater in soybean fields within diverse landscapes, yet variation in predator numbers did not influence the intensity of egg predation observed. In contrast, the strongest predictor of native coccinellid egg predation was the composition of edge habitats bordering specific fields. Field sites surrounded by semi-natural habitats including forests, restored prairies, old fields, and pasturelands experienced greater egg predation than fields surrounded by other croplands. This study shows that intraguild predation by both native and exotic predators may contribute to native coccinellid decline, and that landscape structure interacts with local predator communities to shape the specific outcomes of predator-predator interactions.
The soybean aphid, Aphis glycines Matsumura, has become the single most important arthropod pest of soybeans in North America. Native to Asia, this invasive species was first discovered in North America in July 2000 and has rapidly spread throughout the northcentral United States, much of southeastern Canada, and the northeastern United States. In response, important elements of the ecology of the soybean aphid in North America have been elucidated, with economic thresholds, sampling plans, and chemical control recommendations widely adopted. Aphid-resistant soybean varieties were available to growers in 2010. The preexisting community of aphid natural enemies has been highly effective in suppressing aphid populations in many situations, and classical biological control efforts have focused on the addition of parasitoids of Asian origin. The keys to sustainable management of this pest include understanding linkages between the soybean aphid and other introduced and native species in a landscape context along with continued development of aphid-resistant varieties.
The soybean aphid, Aphis glycines Matsumura (Hemiptera: Aphididae), is currently the most important insect threat to soybean, Clycine max (L.) Merr., production in the North Central United States. Field cage studies are a key tool in investigating the potential of natural enemies and host plant resistance to control this pest. However, a major constraint in the use of cage studies is the limited number of treatments and replicates that can be used as aphid densities frequently become so large as to limit the number of experimental units that can be quantified. One way to overcome this limitation is to develop methods that estimate whole-plant aphid densities based on a reduced sampling plan. Here, we extend an existing method, node-sampling, used for estimating aphid populations in open field conditions and apply it to caged populations. We show that parameters calculated under open field conditions are inappropriate to estimate caged populations. In contrast, using four independent data sets of caged populations and a cross-validation technique, we demonstrate that a three-node sampling unit and a weighted formula provide accurate and robust estimates of whole-plant aphid density. This method reduced the number of aphids counted per plant by and average of 60%, with greater reductions at higher aphid densities. We further demonstrate that nearly identical statistical results were obtained when whole-plant or node-sampling estimates were used in the analysis of two case studies. The reduced sample unit method developed here saves time without sacrificing efficiency so that more plants, replications, or studies can be conducted that will lead to improved soybean aphid management.
Biomass crops grown on marginal soils are expected to fuel an emerging bioenergy industry in the United States. Bioenergy crop choice and position in the landscape could have important impacts on a range of ecosystem services, including natural pest-suppression (biocontrol services) provided by predatory arthropods. In this study we use predation rates of three sentinel crop pests to develop a biocontrol index (BCI) summarizing pest-suppression potential in corn and perennial grass-based bioenergy crops in southern Wisconsin, lower Michigan, and northern Illinois. We show that BCI is higher in perennial grasslands than in corn, and increases with the amount of perennial grassland in the surrounding landscape. We develop an empirical model for predicting BCI from information on energy crop and landscape characteristics, and use the model in a qualitative assessment of changes in biocontrol services for annual croplands on prime agricultural soils under two contrasting bioenergy scenarios. Our analysis suggests that the expansion of annual energy crops onto 1.2 million ha of existing perennial grasslands on marginal soils could reduce BCI between -10 and -64% for nearly half of the annual cropland in the region. In contrast, replacement of the 1.1 million ha of existing annual crops on marginal land with perennial energy crops could increase BCI by 13 to 205% on over half of the annual cropland in the region. Through comparisons with other independent studies, we find that our biocontrol index is negatively related to insecticide use across the Midwest, suggesting that strategically positioned, perennial bioenergy crops could reduce insect damage and insecticide use on neighboring food and forage crops. We suggest that properly validated environmental indices can be used in decision support systems to facilitate integrated assessments of the environmental and economic impacts of different bioenergy policies.
As population modeling is increasingly called upon to guide policy and management, it is important that we understand not only the central tendencies of our study systems, but the consequences of their variation in space and time as well. The invasive plant Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard) is actively managed in the United States and is the focus of a developing biological control program. Two weevils (Coleoptera: Curculionidae: Ceutorhynchus) that reduce fecundity (C. alliariae) and rosette survival plus fecundity (C. scrobicollis) are under consideration for release pending host specificity testing. We used a demographic modeling approach to (1) quantify variability in A. petiolata growth and vital rates and (2) assess the potential for single- or multiple-agent biocontrol to suppress growth of 12 A. petiolata populations in Illinois and Michigan studied over three plant generations. We used perturbation analyses and simulation models with stochastic environments to estimate stochastic growth rates (lambda(S)) and predict the probability of successful management using either a single biocontrol agent or two agent species together. Not all populations exhibited invasive dynamics. Estimates of lambda(S) ranged from 0.78 to 2.21 across sites, while annual, deterministic growth (lambda) varied up to sevenfold within individual sites. Given our knowledge of the biocontrol agents, this analysis suggests that C. scrobicollis alone may control A. petiolata at up to 63% of our study sites where lambda >1, with the combination of both agents predicted to succeed at 88% of sites. Across sites and years, the elasticity rankings were dependent on lambda. Reductions of rosette survival, fecundity, or germination of new seeds are predicted to cause the greatest reduction of lambda in growing populations. In declining populations, transitions affecting seed bank survival have the greatest effect on lambda. This contrasts with past analyses that varied parameters individually in an otherwise constant matrix, which may yield unrealistic predictions by decoupling natural parameter covariances. Overall, comparisons of stochastic and deterministic growth rates illustrate how analyses of individual populations or years could misguide management or fail to characterize complex traits such as invasiveness that emerge as attributes of populations rather than species.
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