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Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Cellulosic Biofuel Landscapes

As part of the Great LakeTwo people crouch in field to collect soil samples on a summers days Bioenergy Research Center, the Landis lab is working to understand how future production of bioenergy crops will affect biodiversity and ecosystem services. Our past work has shown that perennial grassland base biofuel crops could promote natural pest control at local and landscape scales. Specifically, predation of pests is greater in grassland compared to annual bioenergy crops, and increases in landscapes with extensive perennial grassland habitat. Furthermore, carbon cycling in soils is a highly dynamic process controlled by both abiotic and biotic factors above- and belowground. While abiotic and microbial factors have received much attention, the influence of soil arthropods on carbon cycling are less clear. Current work is focusing on:

  • How does landscape configuration (spatial arrangement) affect natural pest control?
    Our past work suggests increasing the proportion of perennial grasslands on a landscape can promote natural pest control, but future bioenergy landscapes may also have distinct spatial arrangements, especially if the less-productive portions of annual crop fields are converted to perennial biofuel crops in the future.
  • How do soil arthropods influence soil carbon pools?
    We are working to understand the ways in which belowground arthropod activity and diversity impact microbial communities in order to gain insight into how these multi-trophic interactions affect carbon sequestration. Current work is focused on comparing soil arthropod communities existing in different bioenergy cropping systems ranging from annual, low plant diversity systems to perennial systems with high diversity.


Ecology and conservation of the Eastern Monarch ButterflyMonarch on milkweed

During the past 20 years the Eastern migratory population of monarch butterflies in North America has declined significantly, raising concerns about the long-term viability of this iconic species. One of the major hypothesized causes of monarch decline is the near elimination of milkweed host plants from Midwestern row crops through the widespread adoption of herbicide-resistant crops. In response, efforts are underway to increase milkweed abundance in non-crop habitats. In many cases milkweed is being established into perennial grasslands including roadsides, rights of way, CRP fields, oldfields etc. However, prior research suggests that perennial grasslands support diverse and abundant natural enemy communities which may subject monarch eggs and larvae to high predation pressure. The Landis Lab is investigating ways to maximize monarch oviposition and larval survivorship in the summer breeding grounds as part of the overall conservation effort.

  • What is the most productive breeding habitat for monarch butterflies in order to maximize habitat restoration efforts?

  • What is the role of disturbance in milkweed habitats for monarch butterfly conservation in agroecosystems?

    • Newly published: “Grassland disturbance increases monarch butterfly oviposition and decreases arthropod predator abundance.“ in Biological Conservation                                 
  • What are the potential predators of monarch eggs and larvae in milkweed habitat that might impact their egg-laying decision making?

  • How will other pollinators be impacted by milkweed habitat restoration?


Long Term Dynamics of Arthropods in Agricultural Landscapes AsianLadyBeetle

The National Science Foundation’s Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) network addresses ecological questions that cannot be resolved with short-term observations or experiments. The Kellogg Biological Station’s (KBS) LTER is one of 26 sites in the network, and is the only site to study agricultural systems. Current work is focusing on:

  • Long-term dynamics of coccinellid beetles in agricultural landscapes.
    Lady beetles (Coccinellidae) are generalist predators of aphids and other soft bodied insects and provide significant pest suppression services in row crops. Since 1989 we’ve documented the spatial and temporal occurrence of lady beetles across the KBS LTER and surrounding natural habitats. These studies have also documented the invasion of multiple exotic lady beetles and their impacts on pest suppression services.
  • Increasing biodiversity and resilience in agricultural landscapes.
    Beginning in 2019 we initiated a new experiment aimed at increasing biodiversity and ecosystem services in annual row crops by inclusion of prairie strips within our conservation-oriented treatments. Research will determine how prairie strips influence recruitment and community assembly as well as spillover effects and pest suppression services in surrounding crop habitats.

KBS LTER Insect Dynamics Page

Select Publications

Bahlai, C.A., M. Colunga-Garcia, S.H. Gage, and D.A. Landis. 2014. The role of exotic species in the decline of native ladybeetle populations: evidence from long-term monitoring. Biological Invasions. DOI: 10.1007/s10530-014-0772-4. View PDF

Costamagna, A.C., and D.A. Landis. 2006. Predators exert top-down control of soybean aphid across a gradient of agricultural management systems. Ecol. Applic. 16: 1619-28. View PDF