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Alternative Pest Control Methods for Agricultural Use

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  • 0:07 Pesticide Use
  • 1:06 Biological Control
  • 2:36 Natural Chemical Control
  • 3:45 Genetic Control
  • 4:54 Integrated Pest Management
  • 5:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

There is a move to reduce the use of pesticides in favor of more environmentally friendly methods of pest control. In this lesson, we'll explore alternative pest control methods, including how they work and the benefits and issues associated with each method.

Pesticide Use

Imagine you saw an insect eating the leaves of the tomato plant you are growing in your garden. How would you deal with this pest? For the last half-century, when pests were found in agricultural fields, pesticides were used to manage the infestation. Pesticides are chemicals that kill or manage the population of pests. Some pesticides target specific insects, rodents, weeds or fungi, while others are broad and manage a wide range of unwanted organisms.

Although pesticide use has become very common worldwide, many new pest control methods are being developed. These alternative pest control methods are designed to help control the pest population while protecting the environment and human health.

The most common alternative pest control methods include biological control, natural chemical control and genetic control. In addition to these specific pest control methods, a complex management system, known as integrated pest management, has also been developed.

Biological Control

One common alternative method used for controlling pests is biological control, which is when natural predators of the pest are introduced to prey on or parasitize the pest. When using this method, farmers get natural predators of the pest and release them into their fields so that the predators can manage the pest population.

In addition to predators that will consume the pests, parasites of the pest can also be introduced, and they will infest the pest and cause harm or potentially kill it. An example of a successful use of biological control is the case of the braconid wasp and the hornworm caterpillars. The hornworm caterpillars were consuming the leaves of many crops, and the wasps were introduced to control the hornworm population.

The wasps are parasites of the caterpillars. They lay their eggs in the caterpillar's body. The wasp larvae hatch and use the caterpillar for nutrients and eventually cause the death of the caterpillar. Through this method of biological control, the wasps are able to reduce the hornworm population while increasing their own population.

Although biological controls can be very beneficial, they can also cause problems for the environment. Sometimes biological control organisms begin to take over an environment and can cause harm to non-pest organisms.

Unfortunately, once biological control organisms are introduced into the environment, they are almost impossible to remove. If they act differently than expected, it is possible that they can do more damage than the pesticides they are supposed to replace.

Natural Chemical Control

Natural chemical control is another alternative method of pest management that utilizes chemical compounds found in the environment to manage pests. The most commonly used natural chemicals are pheromones and hormones, which are specific to the pest species being targeted and have limited influence on other species.

Pheromones are chemicals that an individual releases to communicate with another individual of the same species. Scientists have identified and artificially created many pest pheromones that can be used to manage pests. Pheromones related to mating can be used to lure pests into traps, where they can be removed or exterminated.

The other most common natural chemical control used is hormones. Hormones are chemicals produced by an organism that control the growth and functioning of the organism. Hormones of pests have been extracted and synthesized and can be released into the environment. The hormones released interfere with the normal development or functioning of the organism and cause it to die or stop progressing in its life cycle.

Genetic Control

As agricultural technology has advanced, scientists have developed alternative methods of pest management that focus on the genetics of the organism. Genetic control is the method of pest management where the crops are genetically altered so that they are resistant to pests and diseases caused by pests. Crops can be genetically altered in ways that produce chemical or physical barriers to prevent harm from pests.

An example of genetic control is the development of potatoes that are resistant to potato blight, which is a disease caused by a fungal parasite. This is the disease that caused the potato famine in Ireland in the mid-1800s and resulted in the starvation of almost a million people and the migration of another million. By creating crops that are genetically resistant to the parasite and disease, it is possible to prevent such an event from happening again.

Although genetic control has made it possible to reduce the damage done by pests, there are some concerns over changing the genetics of organisms. Many people are concerned that by genetically altering crops, it might lower the nutritional value of the crop, cause harm to beneficial organisms, lower overall genetic diversity and create new food allergies.

Integrated Pest Management

In addition to these specific alternative pest control methods, a complex management system, known as integrated pest management, has also been developed. Integrated pest management is a system that uses multiple pest control techniques together to establish long-term management of pests.

This system combines alternative pest control methods previously mentioned (biological controls, natural chemical controls and genetic controls) with additional techniques, such as limited pesticide use, monitoring of populations, habitat alteration, crop rotation and mechanical pest removal. The integrated pest management system was developed to take the most effective and most environmentally safe aspects of each technique and combine them to successfully manage pests.

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