List Selection

List Selection


Biological control of pests

The continuous and reckless use of synthetic chemicals for the control of pests which pose a threat to agricultural crops and human health is proving to be counter-productive. Apart from engendering widespread ecological disorders, pesticides have contributed to the emergence of a new breed of chemical-resistant, highly lethal superbugs.

According to a recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), more than 300 species of agricultural pests have developed resistance to a wide range of potent chemicals. Not to be left behind are the disease-spreading pests, about 100 species of which have become immune to a variety of insecticides now in use.

One glaring disadvantage of pesticides’ application is that, while destroying harmful pests, they also wipe out many useful non-targeted organisms, which keep the growth of the pest population in check. This results in what agroecologists call the ‘treadmill syndrome’. Because of their tremendous breeding potential and genetic diversity, many pests are known to withstand synthetic chemicals and bear offspring with a built-in resistance to pesticides.

The havoc that the ‘treadmill syndrome’ can bring about is well illustrated by what happened to cotton farmers in Central America. In the early 1940s, basking in the glory of chemicalbased intensive agriculture, the farmers avidly took to pesticides as a sure measure to boost crop yield. The insecticide was applied eight times a year in the mid-1940s, rising to 28 in a season in the mid-1950s, following the sudden proliferation of three new varieties of chemicalresistant pests.

By the mid-1960s, the situation took an alarming turn with the outbreak of four more new pests, necessitating pesticide spraying to such an extent that 50% of the financial outlay on cotton production was accounted for by pesticides. In the early 1970s, the spraying frequently reached 70 times a season as the farmers were pushed to the wall by the invasion of genetically stronger insect species.

Most of the pesticides in the market today remain inadequately tested for properties that cause cancer and mutations as well as for other adverse effects on health, says a study by United States environmental agencies. The United States National Resource Defense Council has found that DDT was the most popular of a long list of dangerous chemicals in use.

In the face of the escalating perils from indiscriminate applications of pesticides, a more effective and ecologically sound strategy of biological control, involving the selective use of natural enemies of the pest population, is fast gaining popularity – though, as yet, it is a new field with limited potential. The advantage of biological control in contrast to other methods is that it provides a relatively low-cost, perpetual control system with a minimum of detrimental side-effects. When handled by experts, bio-control is safe, non-polluting and self-dispersing.

The Commonwealth Institute of Biological Control (CIBC) in Bangalore, with its global networkof research laboratories and field stations, is one of the most active, non-commercial research agencies engaged in pest control by setting natural predators against parasites. CIBC also serves as a clearing-house for the export and import of biological agents for pest control world-wide.

CIBC successfully used a seed-feeding weevil, native to Mexico, to control the obnoxious parthenium weed, known to exert devious influence on agriculture and human health in both India and Australia. Similarly the Hyderabad-based Regional Research Laboratory (RRI.), supported by CIBC, is now trying out an Argentinian weevil for the eradication of water hyacinth, another dangerous weed, which has become a nuisance in many parts of the world. According to Mrs Kaiser Jamil of RRL, ‘The Argentinian weevil does not attack any other plant and a pair of adult bugs could destroy the weed in 4–5 days.’ CIBC is also perfecting the technique for breeding parasites that prey on ‘disapene scale’ insects – notorious defoliants of fruit trees in the US and India.

How effectively biological control can be pressed into service is proved by the following examples. In the late 1960s, when Sri Lanka’s flourishing coconut groves were plagued by leaf-mining hispides, a larval parasite imported from Singapore brought the pest under control. A natural predator indigenous to India, Neodumetia sangawani, was found useful in controlling the Rhodes grass-scale insect that was devouring forage grass in many parts of the US. By using Neochetina bruci, a beetle native to Brazil, scientists at Kerala Agricultural University freed a 12-kilometrelong canal from the clutches of the weed Salvinia molesta, popularly called ‘African Payal in Kerala. About 30,000 hectares of rice fields in Kerala are infested by this weed.


Questions 22-26

Complete each sentence with the correct ending, A-I, below.

Write the correct letter, A-I, in boxes 22–26 on your answer sheet.

A forage grass.

B rice fields.

C coconut trees.

D fruit trees.

E water hyacinth.

F parthenium weed.

G Brazilian beetles.

H grass-scale insects.

I larval parasites.

22 Disapene scale insects feed on

23 Neodumetia sangawani ate

24 Leaf-rnining hispides blighted

25 An Argentinian weevil may be successful in wiping out

26 Salvinia molesta plagues



Collecting Ant Specimens

Collecting ants can be as simple as picking up stray ones and placing them in a glass jar, or as complicated as completing an exhaustive survey of all species present in an area and estimating their relative abundances. The exact method used will depend on the final purpose of the collections. For taxonomy, or classification, long series, from a single nest, which contain all castes (workers, including majors and minors, and, if present, queens and males) are desirable, to allow the determination of variation within species. For ecological studies, the most important factor is collecting identifiable samples of as many of the different species present as possible. Unfortunately, these methods are not always compatible. The taxonomist sometimes overlooks whole species in favour of those groups currently under study, while the ecologist often collects only a limited number of speciniens of each species, thus reducing their value for taxonomic investigations.

To collect as wide a range of species as possible, several methods must be used. These include hand collecting, using baits to attract the ants, ground litter sampling, and the use of pitfall traps. Hand collecting consists of searching for ants everywhere they are likely to occur. This includes on the ground, under rocks, logs or other objects on the ground, in rotten wood on the ground or on trees, in vegetation, on tree trunks and under bark. When possible, collections should be made from nests or foraging columns and at least 20 to 25 individuals collected. This will ensure that all individuals are of the same species, and so increase their value for detailed studies. Since some species are largely nocturnal, collecting should not be confined to daytime. Specimens are collected using an aspirator (often called a pooter), forceps, a fine, moistened paint brush, or fingers, if the ants are known not to sting. Individual insects are placed in plastic or glass tubes (1.5-3.0 ml capacity for small ants, 5-8 ml for larger ants) containing 75% to 95% ethanol. Plastic tubes with secure tops are better than glass because they are lighter, and do not break as easily if mishandled.

Baits can be used to attract and concentrate foragers. This often increases the number of individuals collected and attracts species that are otherwise elusive. Sugars and meats or oils will attract different species and a range should be utilised. These baits can be placed either on the ground or on the trunks of trees or large shrubs. When placed on the ground, baits should be situated on small paper cards or other flat, light-coloured surfaces, or in test-tubes or vials. This makes it easier to spot ants and to capture them before they can escape into the surrounding leaf litter.

Many ants are small and forage primarily in the layer of leaves and other debris on the ground. Collecting these species by hand can be difficult. One of the most successful ways to collect them is to gather the leaf litter in which they are foraging and extract the ants from it. This is most commonly done by placing leaf litter on a screen over a large funnel, often under some heat. As the leaf litter dries from above, ants (and other animals) move downward and eventually fall out the bottom and are collected in alcohol placed below the funnel. This method works especially well in rain forests and marshy areas. A method of improving the catch when using a funnel is to sift the leaf litter through a coarse screen before placing it above the funnel. This will concentrate the litter and remove larger leaves and twigs. It will also allow more litter to be sampled when using a limited number of funnels.

The pitfall trap is another commonly used tool for collecting ants. A pitfall trap can be any small container placed in the ground with the top level with the surrounding surface and · filled with a preservative. Ants are collected when they fall into the trap while foraging. The diameter of the traps can vary from about 18 mm to 10 cm and the number used can vary from a few to several hundred. The size of the traps used is influenced largely by personal preference (although larger sizes are generally better), while the number will be determined by the study being undertaken. The preservative used is usually ethylene glycol or propylene glycol, as alcohol will evaporate quickly and the traps will dry out. One advantage of pitfall traps is that they can be used to collect over a period of time with minimal maintenance and intervention. One disadvantage is that some species are not collected as they either avoid the traps or do not commonly encounter them while foraging.

Questions 31–36

Classify the following statements as referring to

A hand collecting

B using bait

C sampling ground litter

D using a pitfall trap

Write the correct letter, A, B, C or D, in boxes 31-36 on your answer sheet.

31 It is preferable to take specimens from groups of ants.

32 It is particularly effective for wet habitats.

33 It is a good method for species which are hard to find.

34 Little time and effort is required.

35 Separate containers are used for individual specimens.

36 Non-alcoholic preservative should be used.