, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 491-514
Date: 11 Mar 2011

Agroecosystem management and biotic interactions: a review

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Abstract

Increasing the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides in agroecosystems has led to higher crop yields, accompanied by a decline in biodiversity at the levels of field, cropping system and farm. Biodiversity decline has been favoured by changes at landscape level such as regional farm specialisation, increases in field size, and the removal of hedgerows and woodlots. The loss of biodiversity in agroecosystems has increased the need for external inputs because beneficial functions are no longer provided by beneficial species as natural enemies of crop pests and ecosystem engineers. This trend has led to a strong reliance on petrochemicals in agroecosystems. However, many scientists have been arguing for more than two decades that this reliance on petrochemicals could be considerably reduced by a better use of biotic interactions. This article reviews options to increase beneficial biotic interactions in agroecosystems and to improve pest management and crop nutrition whilst decreasing petrochemical use. Four agronomic options are presented. First, it has been shown that the choice of cultivar, the sowing date and nitrogen fertilisation practices can be manipulated to prevent interactions between pests and crop, in either time or space. Nevertheless, the efficacy of these manipulations may be limited by pest adaptation. Second, beneficial biotic interactions may result from appropriate changes to the habitats of natural enemies and ecosystem engineers, mediated by soil and weed management. Here, knowledge is scarce, and indirect and complex effects are poorly understood. Third, changes achieved by crop diversification and, fourth, by landscape adaptation are promising. However, these practices also present drawbacks that may not necessarily be outweighed by beneficial effects. Overall, these four management approaches provide a powerful framework to develop sustainable agronomic practices.