Insect pests that attack crops have extraordinary powers to develop resistance to greener pesticides, and a new way of managing the risk of resistance is needed, according to an analysis by academics at the University of Stirling.
For more than 70 years, agriculture’s response to pesticide resistance has been to search for new pesticides in an endless race to keep up with evolving pests.
Researchers are now proposing a new way out of this treadmill as farmers embrace the ongoing green revolution in pest management by switching to biopesticides derived from naturally occurring organisms.
The evolution of biopesticide resistance – a crucial tool in the development of sustainable crop protection – has enormous implications for global food security as the world’s population grows.
To address this emerging challenge, researchers deployed the principles of basic evolutionary ecological science and proposed a practical framework for managing the risks of evolving biopesticide resistance.
They suggest that farmers can help manage resistance risks by planting a greater diversity of crops and using multiple biopesticides.
The study was funded by a joint Newton Fund international partnership between the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) in the UK and the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) in Brazil, alongside the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) .
Scientists from the Faculty of Natural Sciences in Stirling, together with colleagues from the University of Gothenburg and the State University of São Paulo, conducted a synthesis of existing research on biopesticides and argued that the Resistance evolution is already underway and is likely to become more widespread as the use of biopesticides continues to increase.
Dr Matthew Tinsley, senior lecturer in biological and environmental sciences at the University of Stirling, said: “People have blinders on – they think that because biopesticides are derived from natural sources it will be harder for pests to develop resistance, but we still need to worry about pest resistance to these new agents.
“The lead time for biopesticides is five to ten years, so if we wait to act, we will lose these new agents because the pests will have already evolved.”
Dr Rosie Mangan, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Stirling, added: “New resistance management approaches are needed for these crop protection products to avoid the same treadmill of invention and loss that the one that happened for chemical pesticides.
“Our view argues that farmers can help manage resistance risks by planting a greater diversity of crops and using multiple biopesticides. This will reduce the spread of resistance and help maintain the effectiveness of biopesticides over the long term.
The new paper, “Increased ecological heterogeneity may limit the evolution of biopesticide resistance,” is published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution. It is part of the larger project led by Stirling ENDORSE (Enhancing Diversity to Overcome Evolutionary Resistance).
Dr. Tinsley and Dr. Mangan worked with Dr. Luc Bussière (University of Gothenburg) and Dr. Ricardo Polanczyk (State University of São Paulo) on the study.
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University of Stirling
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