Quantification of insect-mediated ecosystem services in agrolandscapes

Supervisors

Felix J.J.A. Bianchi (FSE Wageningen UR)
Walter A.H. Rossing (FSE Wageningen UR)

Description

Intensification of farming practices and landscape simplification have led to a deterioration of ecosystem services (ES) in agro-ecosystems, including pollination and natural pest control. Maintaining effective populations of ES providers (often insects) hinges on the availability of resources, which is intimately linked to plant species composition of managed and unmanaged habitats in the landscape. The role of the landscape includes shelter during adverse weather in winter or summer, and provisioning of food and egg laying resources. While the critical importance of a diverse landscape for ES has been amply demonstrated empirically, it has not been unravelled which plant species support the key arthropods providing ES (e.g. hoverflies, parasitoids, bees, bumble bees, carabid beetles). The lack of a mechanistic understanding on the ecological processes underlying ES, in combination with the temporal variation in the level of ES provision, hamper the implementation of habitat management for ES in land use practice. This project will focus on the relationship between wild plants and key arthropods providing ES, and how this in turn influences the spatial and temporal distribution of pest control and pollination services.

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Possible thesis subjects

By conducting vegetation assessments and assessments of insect assemblages and associated ecosystem services in semi-natural habitats and in adjacent arable fields/grassland (pest control and/or pollination), the relationship between plant species and ES provision will be investigated. The field work will be conducted at various sites around Wageningen. Specific objectives are to study how assemblages of wild plant species influence:
  • the abundance, diversity and flower visitation rate of hoverflies, bumble bees and bees;
  • the abundance, diversity and pest control potential of ground-dwelling predators (e.g. carabid beetles) and/or flying predators (e.g. ladybeetles, lacewings);
  • the diversity and pest control potential of parasitoid wasps;
  • abundance and diversity of hibernating insects that play a role in ES provision.

Experiences gained

  • Literature review
  • Experiment design
  • Plant and insect identification skills
  • Ecological techniques (e.g. vegetation assessment, sweep netting, visual observation, pitfall trapping, use of sentinel plants with prey/hosts)
  • Data analysis and writing skills