Spatial agro-ecology

This theme places the crop within the wider agro-ecological landscape, and studies the interactions of crops with populations of other organisms (weeds, pests and pathogens) with emphasis on the spatial and temporal dynamics of this interaction at the crop and landscape level. CSA uses this knowledge to develop integrated approaches for sustainable pest management, to determine the provisioning of ecosystem services, as well as to develop fundamental insight in community and landscape ecology. This research addresses the pressing need for the development of strategies that optimize the multiple functions of agro-ecological landscapes (such as biodiversity and land-use functions).

Thesis subjects

Contribution of living landscapes to agricultural ecosystem services: pollination and biological control

Description:

Living landscapes support a variety of beneficial insect communities for agricultural ecosystem services such as biological pest control and pollinations, while these valuable services have suffered from intensification of agriculture and simplification of agricultural landscapes. Our study is carrying out over a gradient of landscapes from complex to simplified, aiming to quantify how landscape factors affect pollination services and biological control in oilseed rapes and rice. The study is located in Nanchang City, Jiangxi Province, China

Two projects are available:

1. Landscape diversity and pollination services

Target crop: oilseed rape. Experimental methods: pan traps and pollination exclusive treatments. Study time: March – May 2015

2. Landscape diversity and biological pest control

Target crop: rice. Experimental methods: bait card experiment, cage experiment and blower-vac sampling.

We are looking for students who are interested in erotology and agricultural science, and who are willing to visit China! You will have fun by meeting people and exploring Chinese culture. Accommodation will be arranged and living costs will be covered.

Contacts:

Dr Wopke van der Werf (wopke.vanderwerf@wur.nl) and Dr Felix Bianchi (felix.bianchi@wur.nl)

Pushing and pulling: how pyrethrum can both attract and deter insects

Description:

Pyrethrum Tanacetum cinerariifolium and some other species in the genus Tanacetum are perennial species that produce pyrethrins that are used as natural pesticides, especially in organic agriculture. The ecological significance of pyrethrin production is known to be both protection of the plant against insects and, as pyrethrin accumulate in flowers and seeds, protection of offspring against fungal attacks. However, Pyrethrum is also insect pollinated probably primarily by thrips and like other flowering plants the flower is designed to attract pollinators. Pollination is known to be poor in general, however. Thus, an interesting combination arises, as flowers are both made to attract pollinators and at the same are loaded with pyrethrins that deter insects. It has been hypothesized that this represents a so-called push-pull strategy by the plant, in which an ecological balance between sufficient reproduction and annual survival is reached. Roughly this idea entails that these flowers are cleverly designed to attract sufficient pollinators but simultaneously deter potential herbivores so that reproductive success is not diminished. Understanding this dynamic is ecologically highly relevant as it leads to better understanding of why flowers are designed the way they are, but is of major agricultural importance as well, because pollination is also correlated to pyrethrin content and therefore economically important.

Project:

An experiment was conducted in which different Pyrethrum accessions with unknown variation in Pyrethrin content were grown and were either exposed to thrips or not. Flowers were collected both at the pollination stage (stored in alcohol) and at the ripe stage for seed experiments. The question to be addressed here is if there is correlation between pyrethrin content and the number of thrips on the flowers and also whether there is a relation between the presence of thrips and pollination success. Experiments will be conducted (i) to see whether the presence of thrips has influenced the number of fertile seeds, and (ii) whether the pyrethrin content has affected the thrips numbers. In addition we have a suite of accessions from a wild sister species with a known variation in pyrethrin contents and some distinct differences with pyrethrum. These are growing in a field plot and can be characterized in various ways. Several types of measurements or small experiments are possible.

The project is supvervised by Niels Anten (CSA) en Maarten Jongsma (PRI)

Location:

Wageningen

Contact:

Niels Anten (niels.anten@wur.nl)

Ecological weed management: controlling weeds without herbicides

Description:

Weeds are a serious biotic production constraint in most agricultural production systems. Acting at the same trophic level as the crop, weeds capture resources that cannot anymore be used by the crop. Therefore, leaving weeds uncontrolled will sooner or later lead to considerable reductions in crop yield.

Curative weed control is mainly focussed on weed seedlings and is strongly dominated by the use of herbicides. This heavy reliance on chemical control is considered objectionable because of potential negative side-effects on food safety, public health and the environment. Additionally, cropping systems with a narrow focus on herbicidal control are  less sustainable, due to an increased risk regarding the development of herbicide resistance.

Cultural control refers to any adjustment of the general management of the crop that contributes to the regulation of weed populations and reduces the negative impact of weeds on crop production. This preventative approach addresses a variety of life cycle stages and relevant processes, like the weed soil seed bank, seed recruitment, weed seed production and seed predation. Various measures like photo-control, bio-fumigation, mulching, stale seedbeds, transplanting, weed suppressive cultivars and no till systems potentially contribute to this kind of ecological weed management.

The questions that remain are manifold, just to mention a few:

  • Which life cycle stage of the weeds can best be tackled?
  • How effective and reliable are individual cultural control measures?
  • Do the measures combined provide synergistic effects?
  • Are weed community changes likely to result from a modified management strategy?
  • What is the role of crop rotation in ecological weed management?

Types of research:

  • Literature review with follow up analyses of already published data
  • Experimental approaches to evaluate individual measures
  • Population dynamical models to evaluate control measures and to study changes in weed community composition.

Location:

Wageningen

Contact:

Lammert Bastiaans (lammert.bastiaans@wur.nl)

Ecosystem services and resources for beneficial arthropods in agro-landscapes

Description:

Agricultural production is supported by ecosystem services (pollination, natural pest control, soil processes, etc), because of the presence of beneficial arthropods and other organisms. Intesively used, simplified agricultural landscapes have reduced biodiversity and reduced levels of ecosystem services. We are interested in options for management and landscape design that support the increase of ecosystem services in agro-landscapes. Stakeholders with different interests are involved in this transition of agro-landscapes.

Beneficial arthropods (hover flies, lady beetles, parasitoid wasps, wild bees, etc) need resources like nectar, pollen, shelter and alternative food, found in semi-natural habitats such as road verges, woodlots, ditch banks and flower strips, but also in agricultural fields. We study the relation between the distribution and temporal dynamics of these vital resources for different groups of beneficial arthropods in agro-landscapes. The spatial arrangement and quality of landscape elements (agricultural fields as well as semi-natural habitats) also influence the provisioning of other ecosystem services (such as water purification, biodiversity, recreational value), which are interesting for farmers, and other stakeholders.

In this project we apply different approaches that are integrated in a landscape design and evaluation method (Landscape Images). It includes field work, modelling, workshops with stakeholders, GIS and database analysis, and others. The project focusses on two case study areas: Hoeksche Waard and Flevopolders.

Types of research:

For MSc or BSc thesis work different types of research are possible, including:

  • modelling
  • field work (also in winter: impact of tillage practices on hibernation of arthropods)
  • GIS and database analysis
  • workshops or surveys (depending on phase of the project)

Location:

Wageningen

Contact:

Dr Wopke van der Werf (wopke.vanderwerf@wur.nl)

Dispersal of  an emerging honey bee pest:  the small hive beetle (Aethina tumida)

Description:

In recent years the Small hive beetle (Aethina tumida) a pest of honey bee colonies has spread to all habitable continents. This beetle is a notifiable disease in Europe and can destroy healthy bee colonies within a matter of weeks. In order to anticipate the beetle’s impact, research is needed to better understand its ecology and behaviour. We are offering a thesis project involving experimental research on this beetle and its interaction with honey bees.

Upon emergence from the soil, adult small hive beetles require flight to find a host colony (Apis mellifera). Furthermore SHB uses flight to disperse from one host to another. Dispersal of SHB is poorly understood. Flight range observed ranges from 200m in experiments to >10km in anecdotal accounts. Naïve beetles are more prone to flying due to the host finding strategy, whilst SHBs residing in colonies, limit flight. Using field experiments (Mark Release Recapture) we will investigate dispersal of the SHB. The experiments will be performed in Gainesville at the University of Florida, in collaboration with HBREL (http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/honeybee/)       

Duration and planning:

6 months, between August 2017 –  June 2018.

Contact:

For more information, please contact: ing. Bram Cornelissen (Bram.Cornelissen@wur.nl, Biointeractions and Plant Health) or Prof. Joop van Loon (Joop.vanloon@wur.nl, Laboratory of Entomology) or Dr Wopke van der Werf (Wopke.vanderwerf@wur.nl, CSA)

 

Plant fitness consequences of multi-attack by insect herbivores

Description

Individual plants harbour a dynamic multispecies insect herbivore community. These herbivore communities select on plant defence strategies. These defence strategies consist of a constitutive baseline of defence as well as an induced response to attack. Whereas constitutive defences are costly to maintain but readily available, inducible defences reduce metabolic costs of defence in absence of herbivores and allow plants to tailor defences to the specific herbivore attacker. Inducible defences may have ecological costs as induced resistance to one herbivore may lead to increased attraction and susceptibility to other herbivores. For many plant species, it is unknown which herbivores have the strongest impact on plant fitness, whether each herbivore acts as an independent cost on fitness or whether indirect interactions among herbivores cause plant fitness consequences. For example, the first arriving species may affect the order and timing in which subsequent species arrive. To unravel these relationships large datasets are required which have been collected in the past years. In this thesis you will use statistical approaches to find patterns in the dynamics of insect community composition and seed production of Brassica nigra plants.   

Used skills

The proposed work consists of constructing statistical models to test for patterns in order of arrival and the consequences of the insect community composition on plant fitness, etc. Questions can be tailored to the student’s interest. A good knowledge of insect ecology is needed as well as affinity for statistical analysis and large datasets.  Students will be based at CSA and collaborating with Entomology where the dynamic processes of plant-insect communities are studied.

Requirements

Fundamental and Applied Biology of Insects (ENT-30806) and either Molecular and Evolutionary Ecology or Ecological Aspects of Biointeractions (ENT-30306), and/or Ecological Modelling and Data Analysis in R (CSA-34306).

Contact

Bob Douma (CSA, bob.douma@wur.nl) and Erik Poelman (Entomology, erik.poelman@wur.nl)

Allelopathic assessment of fine- fescue cultivars with the aim to maintain sports fields without herbicides

Description

Within the last few years, stricter bans on herbicide use in the EU have been put in place. Particularly the golf industry in the Netherlands is searching for alternative methods to control weeds. Recently fine fescue (Festuca rubra) turfgrass cultivars have been identified to produce allelopathic compounds, which have an herbicidal effect on broadleaved weeds such as clover (Trifolium repens) and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). We are planning to assess the allelopathic potential of as many fine fescue cultivars as possible in growth chamber experiments and field trials. Target weeds include the three most common turfgrass weeds in Holland which are clover, daisy (Bellis perennis) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium).

Types of research 

This work can be described as an applied science study. It will consist of screening cultivars in controlled environments, selecting promising cultivars and ultimately seeding field trials. Growth chamber screenings will commence in early 2018.

Locations

Wageningen (WUR Crop Systems Analysis) and Wolheze (Barenburg research station)

Contact

Daniel Hahn (Daniel.Hahn@wur.nl)

The influence of mowing heights and nitrogen application rates on the competitive ability of turfgrasses against weeds

Description

Within the last few years, stricter bans on herbicide use in the EU have been put in place. Particularly the golf industry in the Netherlands is searching for alternative methods to control weeds. Field trials will be set up on fairways at two golf courses. Golf fairways are the largest playing areas on golf courses, which are maintained with minimal input compared to golf greens and tee boxes. Therefore weed populations can built up on fairways and spread throughout the golfcourse. Traditionally weed management relied on herbicide use but in 2020 herbicides will be banned for golf courses in Holland. Optimising management practices such as mowing and fertilisation will be investigated with the aim to provide dense turf swards that are capable to outcompete weeds.

Types of research 

This work can be described as an applied science study. Field trials will be set up at golf courses close to Wageningen University. However the student would require a car.

Location

Wageningen (WUR Crop Systems Analysis), Heelsum Golf club, Heelsum and The Dutch Golf club, Spijk Gem. Lingewaal

Contact

Daniel Hahn (Daniel.Hahn@wur.nl)