My work focuses on the ecology of agroecosystems, with special emphasis on herbivore-natural enemy interactions and pollination ecology. I am interested to understand how farm management, the environment and the surrounding landscape influences the population dynamics and spatial ecology of farmland species. I use a combination of experimentation and modelling to study which factors govern the interactions between plants, herbivores, natural enemies and pollinators. Understanding of these relationships is essential to inform the development of multifunctional agroecosystems at the field, farm and landscape scale that are less dependent on external inputs, and support biodiversity and associated ecosystem services.
I have three main research lines that address the underlying mechanisms of the population dynamics of farmland species and the ecosystem services that they provide:
- Resource ecology: agroecosystems provide food resources for herbivores, their natural enemies and pollinators. Herbivores may feed on crops and may in some cases be considered agricultural pests. Natural enemies and pollinators provide important pest suppression and pollination ecosystem services, and depend on plants to acquire nectar and pollen. However, herbivores have specific host plants, and natural enemies and pollinators are selective in their flower visits. I am interested to find out how the composition of plant communities in agroecosystems moderates the population dynamics and spatial ecology of farmland species.
- Disturbance ecology: intensive farm management practices are widespread, but have contributed to the simplification of agroecosystems at multiple scales, and can have negative impacts on the environment and farmland biodiversity. For instance, the use of synthetic insecticides are usually effective in providing short-term pest control, but can also eradicate natural enemies that can suppress herbivore populations. As such, the overuse of insecticides can give rise to the pesticide treadmill with undesirable outcomes for farmers, the environment and biodiversity. I want to acquire a better understanding of how agrochemical use influences pest-natural enemy interactions, and weed populations that can provide critical food resources for beneficial insects.
- Chemical ecology: plants may influence their exposure to herbivory by releasing volatiles that repel herbivores and/or attract their natural enemies. While examples of pest suppressive cropping systems based on plant volatiles are available from African smallholder farming systems (i.e., the push-pull system), the ability of crops to recruit natural enemies of pests has largely been overlooked in the temperate zone. Yet, the use of attractive crop varieties for natural enemies may enhance natural pest suppression, but requires sufficient source habitats of natural enemies in the surroundings. I am interested to assess the potential of cropping systems with increased herbivore-induced plant volatiles emission to enhance natural pest suppression and reduce the dependency on synthetic insecticides.
To foster on-the-ground impact I am member of the committee of experts Agro/food Plant advising on the “on the way to planet proof” certification label since January 2018 (https://www.planetproof.eu/500/home.html).