Interactions in Agricultural Settings

In order to prevent significant losses of agricultural crops to herbivory, both in the field and following harvest, some form of insect population control is often required; some crops may require protection from more than one insect herbivore. Under conventional farming methods in the industrialized world, insecticides are applied to agricultural fields to control insect pests. Often, more than one type of insecticide and/or more than one treatment will be applied in a single crop cycle. The type of control method used for a particular insect/crop combination in part depends upon the understanding of the insect and its use of a particular crop plant. Research into novel aspects of insect-plant interaction may provide improved alternatives for controlling insect pest populations. For instance, recent research examining the effects of moth larvae feeding on corn has demonstrated that after herbivore damage, corn plants release a new complex of odorants into the air, and that some of these molecules are attractive to parasitic wasps. The parasitic wasps then seek out and parasitize the larvae feeding on the corn plants. These odorants have the potential to be used to help control moth damage on corn.

A very different view of insect-plant interaction focuses on the use of insects as biological control agents for weeds and takes advantage of the fact that insects can feed destructively on plants. A well-known example of insect control of weeds occurred in Australia when prickly pear cacti were controlled by the cactus moth from Argentina, Cactobldstis cactorum (Berg), an insect herbivore imported for that purpose.

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