Biological control of agricultural pests and diseases: examples

Hello to all gardeners! In today’s article we are going to talk about the biological control of pests and diseases . We will see why this alternative method is important , the organisms that can help us implement it and if it is really effective or not in our crops.

Biological pest control 

The biological control is a method of regulating populations of living things through the intervention of other agencies. It is being applied in many areas as an alternative to other control methods. In agriculture, it basically refers to the reduction of pest populations (understanding pests such as insects, mites, pathogens and weeds ) to certain levels that do not cause relevant disturbances in our crop. For this, natural enemies are used , that is, organisms that feed on them.

It is one of the most ecological and efficient mechanisms for the control of agricultural pests . It is being implemented every day in more farms, both organic and traditional. An example of this are the Andalusian horticultural greenhouses , where a high percentage of pest control , for some years, has been based on biological methods. In addition, very good results are being obtained.

Advantages of biological pest control

  • Natural enemies do not produce collateral effects on other beneficial organisms, since they are usually specific and feed on a small target group.
  • The development of resistance is highly unlikely, at least in the short term, compared to other control methods, such as phytosanitary products.
  • The relationship between costs and benefits is very favorable, since once released in the environment, maintenance is low.
  • They do not cause toxicity problems.
  • They are not polluting, so they do not leave residues, neither in the soil nor in the crop.
  • If the natural enemy can be established in the crop, they are persistent and do not require their implantation year after year. For this, alternative crops or vegetation bands must be provided to serve as a supplement when the main crop is removed.

Disadvantages of biological control

  • Its effects are slower than with the use of other methods, such as physical or chemical. This is because the population of natural enemies needs to develop and settle, and acts in a dense-dependent manner, since these antagonistic beings increase when there is a large pest population, since they feed on it. When the density of this has decreased, the population of natural enemies falls again and, then, the plague grows, so it is never completely exterminated.
  • It requires extensive knowledge of the biology of pests and natural enemies , as well as the relationships that are established between them. The reproductive cycles, the possible hosts, the environmental conditions in which they develop, etc. must be known. for the method to be effective. In addition, to avoid great damage to the crop, it is necessary to anticipate when the pest will be installed, since it must be taken into account that, at that moment, the natural enemy population must already be settled and ready to act.
  • Although it has been commented that they are not too demanding in terms of maintenance, biological control requires monitoring the evolution of the pest and the natural enemy to determine if the treatment is being, or not, effective.

Biological Control Techniques

There are three biological control strategies : import and increase, which are considered direct strategies due to the intentional intervention of man; and conservation, an indirect strategy that acts through the management of interactions in the agroecosystem . Each of them can be used individually or in combination.

Biological import control

Natural enemies are imported from one region to another in order to combat invasive exotic pests. This strategy must be very controlled. The introduction of non-native species into an ecosystem can cause serious damage to it. Therefore, the International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures establishes guidelines for the export, shipment, import and release of biological control agents and other beneficial organisms .

Increase in biological pest controllers

What is intended, in this case, is to artificially increase the population of natural enemies , in such a way as to enhance the attack on the pest. It is usually used when there is no natural control or it is at very low levels.

Biological conservation control

This strategy involves knowing and managing the interactions in the agroecosystem, acting on the elements of the environment to improve the factors that affect beneficial organisms and enhance their effectiveness against pests.

The fundamental benefit of biological control is measured in success or failure, in the sense that it has been possible to control a pest without having to complement it with other methods . In organic farming , especially on a large scale, it is a very effective method when cultivating. Avoid large losses in crops, maintaining a balance between the organisms of the agroecosystem.

In this way, the importance of maintaining interspecific relationships in the agricultural environment is highlighted. They help the system not be out of balance. In addition, it avoids the appearance of serious problems thanks to the existence of this natural regulation . Hopefully, in the not too distant future, these techniques have completely displaced chemical control methods.

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