Going Native May Lower Pest Control Costs and Increase Yields

AgBioResearch entomologists have found that native bees and insect predators with access to native plants do a great job of pollinating crops and consuming insect pests.

Bees are nature's pollinators

AgBioResearch entomologists have found that native bees and insect predators with access to native plants do a great job of pollinating crops and consuming insect pests. This can add up to lower pest control expenses and higher yields at harvest.

In a two-year study recently published in the Ecological Society of America's journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, they found 26 native Michigan plants that were highly attractive to pollinators and beneficial predatory insects. By establishing native plants that support beneficial insects, farmers may experience improved pollination and pest control. That can mean lower costs and higher profits along with the associated environmental benefits.

Though the study was aimed at finding plants for use in agricultural settings, the same plants will perform similar functions in suburban and urban landscapes. With more people growing large gardens, that can mean more improved harvests at the end of the summer.

"Homeowners can benefit from including these plants in their landscapes," said Rufus Isaacs, MAES entomologist and the report?s principal author. "Squash, pumpkins, strawberries and raspberries will yield larger fruit with good pollination. Providing these plants to improve your habitat for bees and other beneficial insects pays dividends to the home gardener."

The study required the team to monitor insect activity on 43 native plant species. The researchers used a retrofitted shop vacuum to suck flying insects from the plants and then took the filled bags to the laboratory, where they identified and counted the insects on each plant species when it was in bloom. The top 26 insect-attracting plants are listed online.

Results show that planting species as Culver's root, blue lobelia and Riddell's goldenrod along a fence row or a garden border can entice native bees. Golden Alexanders, sand coreopsis and pale-leaved sunflowers were among the species found to attract native predators.

"We see this as a win-win for agriculture and the environment," said MAES entomologist Doug Landis, another study author. "All of the plants we tested are prairie and savanna plants that were once common in our region, but these have become relatively rare in agricultural landscapes. Reestablishing these species on farms adds natural beauty and can benefit a variety of native wildlife such as birds and butterflies in addition to beneficial insects."

The research has jumped across oceans. With input from the MAES researchers, a similar project is under way in Argentina. Landis and other scientists also are traveling to the central Asian countries of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to check on studies they initiated there.

"Every region of the world has its own unique native plants and insects. We teach people the basic techniques, and they conduct the screening for themselves," Landis said.

This work was funded by Project GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental Needs), the plant industry initiative at MSU; the U.S. Department of Agriculture?s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension program and its National Research Initiative; and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Did you find this article useful?