Protecting crops and provisioning biodiversity
Local and landscape conservation for protecting crops and provisioning biodiversity
Our overall goal is to understand how local and landscape changes in management can help support healthy native pollinator populations and biological control agents throughout the southeast.
Modern agricultural practices are challenged to balance the trade-offs of intensifying production while simultaneously preserving biodiversity and human health. At regional scales, intensive agriculture frequently results in reduced native lands to support the very biodiversity required for sustainable productivity. However, within farms, growers have the opportunity to enhance biodiversity and associated insect mediated services such as biological control and pollination through cover cropping and wildflower pollinator habitats. With more growers in a region adopting these practices, a region wide increase in biological control and pollination is possible, which would lower the costs of chemical crop protection and the use of domesticated bees for pollination. Further research focused on regional and local methods to mediate biodiversity loss while improving yields is critical to enhance crop management practices and farmscape design.
Schmidt along with collaborators are addressing these challenges in cotton, blueberry and rotational row crop systems at the University of Georgia. Projects explore the attractiveness of native wildflower species for promoting ecosystem services, cover cropping for promoting early season biological control and reducing chemical inputs, and landscape composition and configuration effects on beneficial organisms. Results from these studies have determined that cover cropping can boost early season biodiversity and suggests improved pest control. In the first year of looking at native wildflower attractiveness and ease of establishment showed that there are species of wildflowers which are easier to grow and also are attractive to many pollinators and biological control agents. Georgia blueberry growers lack information on biocontrol agents in these landscapes. In working with blueberry growers in Georgia, we have determined these landscapes are currently dominated by generalist predators and low levels of parasitoids. Further work is needed to understand fully the complex effects of these landscapes on pest control and biocontrol agents. The subtropical environment with warm temperatures year around, and ephemeral water bodies create an interesting mix of challenges for growers and for the provisioning of biodiversity for ecosystem services.
This work is generating information that cotton growers and blueberry growers of the southeast need to improve sustainability in practices and to help them conserve native pollinators and biological control agents. Research reaches these communities through extension meetings and through the UGA extension network to deliver research outputs to stake holders of these major commodities. Researchers have shared finding with the blueberry commission, local extension agents and presented at the Entomological Society of America. Through surveys and discussion with growers, interest is building in this area of research and demand for solutions. Future research will attempt to reach our stakeholders and improve local to landscape ecosystem service delivery.
Sustainability, Conservation, and the Environment