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Concept: Biological pest control


Spiders have been suspected to be one of the most important groups of natural enemies of insects worldwide. To document the impact of the global spider community as insect predators, we present estimates of the biomass of annually killed insect prey. Our estimates assessed with two different methods suggest that the annual prey kill of the global spider community is in the range of 400-800 million metric tons (fresh weight), with insects and collembolans composing >90% of the captured prey. This equals approximately 1‰ of the global terrestrial net primary production. Spiders associated with forests and grasslands account for >95% of the annual prey kill of the global spider community, whereas spiders in other habitats are rather insignificant contributors over a full year. The spider communities associated with annual crops contribute less than 2% to the global annual prey kill. This, however, can be partly explained by the fact that annual crop fields are “disturbed habitats” with a low buildup of spider biomass and that agrobiont spiders often only kill prey over short time periods in a year. Our estimates are supported by the published results of exclusion experiments, showing that the number of herbivorous/detritivorous insects and collembolans increased significantly after spider removal from experimental plots. The presented estimates of the global annual prey kill and the relative contribution of spider predation in different biomes improve the general understanding of spider ecology and provide a first assessment of the global impact of this very important predator group.

Concepts: Insect, Arthropod, Predation, Ecology, Lion, Biological pest control, Aposematism, Spider


Myxococcus xanthus cells self-organize into periodic bands of traveling waves, termed ripples, during multicellular fruiting body development and predation on other bacteria. To investigate the mechanistic basis of rippling behavior and its physiological role during predation by this Gram-negative soil bacterium, we have used an approach that combines mathematical modeling with experimental observations. Specifically, we developed an agent-based model (ABM) to simulate rippling behavior that employs a new signaling mechanism to trigger cellular reversals. The ABM has demonstrated that three ingredients are sufficient to generate rippling behavior: (i) side-to-side signaling between two cells that causes one of the cells to reverse, (ii) a minimal refractory time period after each reversal during which cells cannot reverse again, and (iii) physical interactions that cause the cells to locally align. To explain why rippling behavior appears as a consequence of the presence of prey, we postulate that prey-associated macromolecules indirectly induce ripples by stimulating side-to-side contact-mediated signaling. In parallel to the simulations, M. xanthus predatory rippling behavior was experimentally observed and analyzed using time-lapse microscopy. A formalized relationship between the wavelength, reversal time, and cell velocity has been predicted by the simulations and confirmed by the experimental data. Furthermore, the results suggest that the physiological role of rippling behavior during M. xanthus predation is to increase the rate of spreading over prey cells due to increased side-to-side contact-mediated signaling and to allow predatory cells to remain on the prey longer as a result of more periodic cell motility.

Concepts: Bacteria, Causality, Predation, Simulation, Operations research, Mathematical model, Biological pest control


The role of bats or any generalist predator in suppressing prey populations depends on the predator’s ability to track and exploit available prey. Using a qPCR fecal DNA assay, we document significant association between numbers of Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) consuming corn earworm (CEW) moths (Helicoverpa zea) and seasonal fluctuations in CEW populations. This result is consistent with earlier research linking the bats' diet to patterns of migration, abundance, and crop infestation by important insect pests. Here we confirm opportunistic feeding on one of the world’s most destructive insects and support model estimates of the bats' ecosystem services. Regression analysis of CEW consumption versus the moth’s abundance at four insect trapping sites further indicates that bats track local abundance of CEW within the regional landscape. Estimates of CEW gene copies in the feces of bats are not associated with seasonal or local patterns of CEW abundance, and results of captive feeding experiments indicate that our qPCR assay does not provide a direct measure of numbers or biomass of prey consumed. Our results support growing evidence for the role of generalist predators, and bats specifically, as agents for biological control and speak to the value of conserving indigenous generalist predators.

Concepts: Insect, Predation, Ecology, Maize, Lepidoptera, Biological pest control, Moth, Mexican Free-tailed Bat


Harmonia axyridis has been introduced as a biological control agent in Europe and the USA. Since its introduction, it has established and spread, and it is now regarded as an invasive alien species. It has been suggested that intraguild predation is especially important for the invasion success of H. axyridis. The aim of this study was to compare the intraguild predation behaviour of three ladybird species (Coccinella septempunctata, Adalia bipunctata, and H. axyridis). Predation behaviour was investigated in semi-field experiments on small lime trees (Tilia platyphyllos). Two fourth-instar larvae placed on a tree rarely made contact during 3-hour observations. When placed together on a single leaf in 23%-43% of the observations at least one contact was made. Of those contacts 0%-27% resulted in an attack. Harmonia axyridis attacked mostly heterospecifics, while A. bipunctata and C. septempunctata attacked heterospecifics as often as conspecifics. In comparison with A. bipunctata and C. septempunctata, H. axyridis was the most successful intraguild predator as it won 86% and 44% of heterospecific battles against A. bipunctata and C. septempunctata respectively, whilst A. bipunctata won none of the heterospecific battles and C. septempunctata won only the heterospecific battles against A. bipunctata. Coccinella septempunctata dropped from a leaf earlier and more often than the other two species but was in some cases able to return to the tree, especially under cloudy conditions. The frequency with which a species dropped did not depend on the species the larva was paired with. The results of these semi-field experiments confirm that H. axyridis is a strong intraguild predator as a consequence of its aggressiveness and good defence against predation from heterospecific species. The fact that H. axyridis is such a strong intraguild predator helps to explain its successful establishment as invasive alien species in Europe and the USA.

Concepts: Biological pest control, Invasive species, Introduced species, Coccinellidae, Harmonia axyridis, Tilia, Coccinella septempunctata, Biological pest control agents


Aphids commonly harbor bacterial facultative symbionts that have a variety of effects upon their aphid hosts, including defense against hymenopteran parasitoids and fungal pathogens. The soybean aphid, Aphis glycines Matsumura (Hemiptera: Aphididae), is infected with the symbiont Arsenophonus sp., which has an unknown role in its aphid host. Our research goals were to document the infection frequency and diversity of the symbiont in field-collected soybean aphids, and to determine whether Arsenophonus is defending soybean aphid against natural enemies. We performed diagnostic PCR and sequenced four Arsenophonus genes in soybean aphids from their native and introduced range to estimate infection frequency and genetic diversity, and found that Arsenophonus infection is highly prevalent and genetically uniform. To evaluate the defensive role of Arsenophonus, we cured two aphid genotypes of their natural Arsenophonus infection through ampicillin microinjection, resulting in infected and uninfected isolines within the same genetic background. These isolines were subjected to parasitoid assays using a recently introduced biological control agent, Binodoxys communis [Braconidae], a naturally recruited parasitoid, Aphelinus certus [Aphelinidae], and a commercially available biological control agent, Aphidius colemani [Braconidae]. We also assayed the effect of the common aphid fungal pathogen, Pandora neoaphidis (Remaudiere & Hennebert) Humber (Entomophthorales: Entomophthoraceae), on the same aphid isolines. We did not find differences in successful parasitism for any of the parasitoid species, nor did we find differences in P. neoaphidis infection between our treatments. Our conclusion is that Arsenophonus does not defend its soybean aphid host against these major parasitoid and fungal natural enemies.

Concepts: Bacteria, Evolution, Parasitism, Hemiptera, Biological pest control, Parasitoid, Aphididae, Soybean aphid


Neonicotinoids are widely used insecticides, but their use is subject of debate because of their detrimental effects on pollinators. Little is known about the effect of neonicotinoids on other beneficial insects such as parasitoid wasps, which serve as natural enemies and are crucial for ecosystem functioning. Here we show that sublethal doses of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid impair sexual communication and host finding in the parasitoid wasp Nasonia vitripennis. Depending on the dose, treated females were less responsive to the male sex pheromone or unable to use it as a cue at all. Courtship behaviour of treated couples was also impeded resulting in a reduction of mating rates by up to 80%. Moreover, treated females were no longer able to locate hosts by using olfactory cues. Olfaction is crucial for the reproductive success of parasitoid wasps. Hence, sublethal doses of neonicotinoids might compromise the function of parasitoid wasps as natural enemies with potentially dire consequences for ecosystem services.

Concepts: Male, Insect, Sex, Ant, Insecticide, Biological pest control, Neonicotinoid, Imidacloprid


The oomycetes include some of the most devastating plant pathogens. In this review we discuss the latest results from oomycete and plant studies with emphasis on interaction studies. We focus on the outcomes of RNAseq and proteomics studies and some pitfalls of these approaches. Both pathogenic interactions and biological control are discussed. We underline the usefulness of studies at several levels of complexity from studies of one organism, up to two or more and within agricultural fields (managed settings) up to wild ecosystems. Finally we identify areas of future interest such as detailed interactome studies, dual RNAseq studies, peptide modification studies and population/meta omics with or without biological control agents.

Concepts: Bacteria, Organism, Life, Microbiology, Species, Emergence, Cell wall, Biological pest control


Transgenic corn engineered with genes expressing insecticidal toxins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Berliner) (Bt) are now a major tool in insect pest management. With its widespread use, insect resistance is a major threat to the sustainability of the Bt transgenic technology. For all Bt corn expressing Cry toxins, the high dose requirement for resistance management is not achieved for corn earworm, Helicoverpa zea (Boddie), which is more tolerant to the Bt toxins.

Concepts: Gene expression, Bacteria, Bacillus, Maize, Bacillus thuringiensis, Biological pest control, Genetically modified food, Transgenic maize


Root colonization by antagonistic bacteria is a prerequisite for successful biological control, and the instability of colonization under varying environmental conditions has accentuated the need to improve the colonization activity. Root colonization by Bacillus spp. is mainly determined by chemotaxis and biofilm formation, and both functions are negatively controlled by the global transcription regulator AbrB. Here, we disrupted the gene abrB in Bacillus amyloliquefaciens SQR9, which has been proven to be a promising biocontrol agent of cucumber and watermelon wilt disease. Chemotaxis, biofilm formation, and colonization activities as well as biocontrol efficiency were measured and compared between the wild-type strain of SQR9 and the abrB mutant. The data presented in this article demonstrate that the colonization and biocontrol activity of B. amyloliquefaciens SQR9 could be significantly improved by abrB gene disruption. The results offer a new strategy to enhance the biocontrol efficacy of B. amyloliquefaciens SQR9.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Archaea, Bacteria, Microbiology, Bacillus, Biological pest control, Bacillus amyloliquefaciens


Seed-applied neonicotinoids are widely used in agriculture, yet their effects on non-target species remain incompletely understood. One important group of non-target species is arthropod natural enemies (predators and parasitoids), which contribute considerably to suppression of crop pests. We hypothesized that seed-applied neonicotinoids reduce natural-enemy abundance, but not as strongly as alternative insecticide options such as soil- and foliar-applied pyrethroids. Furthermore we hypothesized that seed-applied neonicotinoids affect natural enemies through a combination of toxin exposure and prey scarcity.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Predation, Ecology, Hunting, Insecticide, Biological pest control, Frog