A CALS grad student’s research on whether native bees can take over the job of pollinating Wisconsin’s commercial crops is the topic of this new YouTube video slideshow. CALS science writer Nicole Miller produced the slideshow, in which Hannah Gaines, a Ph.D. student in the entomology department, talks about her work studying native pollinators in Wisconsin’s cranberry crop. Cranberry growers routinely rent honeybees to do the pollinating, but relying on native pollinators could cut costs. Gaines is studying how the nature of the surrounding landscape affects pollination in the Wisconsin cranberry bogs. During 2008, she collected 108 species of native bees, and found that both abundance and diversity increased along with the amount of nearby natural habitat. More info on the topic is available in this article by University Communications staff writer David Tennenbaum, which features CALS entomologist Phil Pellitteri as well as Gaines.
Ben Werling, Claudio Gratton and their coauthors published work examining the benefits of diversifying potato agroecosystems, both at the top and bottom of the food chain. Looking down from the top of the food chain, the team asked the question: “If and when does having multiple predator species improve control of insect pests?” To answer this question, Ben worked with David Lowenstein – then fresh from the Bronx – and Dr. Cory Straub to examine the effects of predator diversity on predation of Colorado potato beetle, a notorious potato pest. Their results, recently published in the Journal of Insect Science, provide evidence that multiple predator species are better than one – but only under certain conditions. Specifically, they found that the benefits of predator diversity were greater at low prey density. They also suggest a simple mechanism for this effect. Specifically, ecologists hypothesize that competition amongst predators will be lessened in diverse communities, which contain species that all attack different types of prey, compared to lower diversity communities, where individuals are more likely to compete for the same type of prey. Given this, it is reasonable to expect that predator diversity will be more important at lower prey density, where predators are competing for scarcer resources. This suggests that conserving multiple predator species on farmland could be important for keeping pest populations that are currently at low levels from escaping control. In other words, diverse predator communities may help keep pests “down for the count.”
Cory Straub and Jason Harmon – both postdocs at the time – to examine how diversifying potato fields by planting strips of prairie grasses affect both pests and their natural enemies. Their findings – recently published in Biological Control – suggest that prairie grasses increase the abundance of spiders and harvestmen, leading to increased predation of Colorado potato beetle. However, these benefits were limited to the area immediately adjacent to grassy strips. This suggests that planting prairie grasses on farmland could increase natural pest control – but, as in opening a business – location matters. In particular, interspersing patches of crop and natural habitat within a crop field could allow natural enemies to benefit from resources in non-crop areas, while minimizing the distance they have to travel to control pests in crops.
Last week I had the opportunity to visit and give a seminar in the Entomology department at the University of Arkansas in Feyetteville in the northwestern part of the state. UA being the home institution of Dwight Isley, one of the fathers of modern Integrated Pest Management (historical placard in front of the department!)
I had great time meeting with graduate students and faculty. It was particularly nice to reconnect with an old UW Entomology undergraduate alum, Ace Lynn-Miller, who had taken my Insect Biological control course while here at UW. Ace and his fellow graduate students were gracious hosts, showed me around, and fed me well, including a stop an Mamma Dean’s for some home cookin’.
After my seminar on Friday, we made quick trip to the newly opened Chrystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. Bentonville, of course, the home of the Walton family and the original Wal-Mart (below). The Museum is the culmination of a lifetime of art collecting and now philanthropy of the Walton family. What a spectacular place with world-class art in very cool new building. I would highly recommend the jaunt over there if you are ever in that part of the country. Thanks again to my new friends!
Congrats to Ben Werling, former Gratton Lab member extraordinaire! Ben has achieved the lofty goal of publishing all of his thesis research AND… an extra paper that was not even part of his dissertation! Nice work Ben!
The latest two are just out: visit the publications page to get the articles.
Believe it or not, for all the years that this show has been going on, we are having our first Gratton Lab retreat up at the Trout Lake research station. Hopefully this will become an annual event. The group is almost complete, missing only a few of the regulars (Tim and Jamin, we’ll catch you next time) and our stalwart crew of (post/)undergraduate crew. Skiing in the morning and a big meal slated tonight. Claudio