Secure and sustainable food production is a major challenge facing human societies. Our food security is continuously threatened by current and invasive pest species. Invertebrate pests pose a huge threat to food security, destroying an estimated 20% of the world’s annual crops and stored products. However, the regulations for the use of pesticides are getting stricter, due to their potential negative impact on food safety and ecosystem health. Biological control, in which natural enemies are used to control pest populations, has great potential to deal with these two demands.
Many novel pests originate from other continents, and these exotic pests are often controlled using imported non-native natural enemies. Although this strategy is often very successful, it also involves risks for local biodiversity that are not yet fully quantified. The increased protection of biological resources through recent international treaties, such as the Nagoya protocol for Access and Benefit Sharing, further restricts this practice. Optimization of biological control using existing and native enemies can reduce our dependence on imported biological control agents.
Genetics for better biological control
A powerful way to optimize biological control is to use genetic knowledge, both on the natural enemy and on the pest. Genetic variation for traits involved in biological control is a largely untapped resource for the improvement of the efficacy of existing and native biological control agents. Key traits for biological control are those traits that determine the main events in the natural enemy’s life, so-called life-history traits. Life-history traits determine the reproductive potential (fecundity, sex ratio, searching behaviour) and the environmental sensitivity (starvation resistance, temperature tolerance, diapause) of a natural enemy. Knowledge on the genetics underlying these traits will help us design efficient rearing, sampling and release strategies for natural enemies. Likewise, knowledge on the genetic variation of those traits in pest species can help us determine the most efficient way of targeting them.
In BINGO-ITN, Breeding Invertebrates for Next Generation BioControl Innovative Training Network, we are coordinating the development of innovative research training to improve the production and performance of natural enemies in biological control by the use of genetic variation for rearing, monitoring and performance. Our goal is to use the natural genetic variation present in native natural enemies populations to improve their performance as biocontrol agents.
BINGO is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme and involves 23 researchers and 13 PhD candidates. It represents a consortium of universities, industry and international agricultural organizations spanning nine European countries, whose unifying theme is the study of invertebrate biology.
Integrated Pest Management of the Spotted Wing Drosophila
The Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD), Drosophila suzukii, is an invasive fruit fly from Asia that infests ripening fruit. It was first observed in the Netherlands in 2012 and already causes millions of euros of damage to the fruit industry. In a consortium of the University of Groningen, Wageningen University & Research and Koppert Biological Systems, we apply knowledge on the genetics, life-history, (chemical) ecology and host-parasite interactions of the SWD, to develop an integrated pest control programme. The goal is to protect fruit crops against this exotic insect species.