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Posts Tagged: IPM

Birds are beneficial too!

Across the globe, scientists have shown that birds can be farmer allies. Insectivorous birds feed on damaging insect pests in many crops including coffee, cacao, oil palm, corn, cabbage and apples. Raptors, including hawks and barn owls, feed on rodents, including gophers, voles and mice (see blog, Barn owls help clean up rodents naturally).

Despite this deep historic knowledge that birds are important predators of crop pests, over time the perception of birds as natural enemies of pests has been generally replaced with the idea that birds are often major crop pests themselves. Indeed, some bird species — like some types of insects — can cause trouble for farmers, but many others — especially those that eat insects and rodents — can be beneficial.

Western bluebird eating a caterpillar pest. Image by Glen Bartley/VIREO.
Western bluebird eating a caterpillar pest. (Photo: Glenn Bartley/VIREO)

 

Do birds control insect pests on farms in California's Central Valley?

They do! Recent studies by Dr. Sacha Heath, UC Davis, and Rachael Long, field crops and pest management advisor, UC Cooperative Extension, showed that birds help control insect pests in walnut orchards. Dr. Sara Kross (UC Davis postdoctoral alumnus, now with Columbia University) showed that birds help control alfalfa insect pests.

Birds are voracious predators of codling moth pests in walnuts

Codling moth is a major worm-like pest that infests walnuts, apples and pears. The larvae go dormant during winter, living in cocoons in crevices in trees. Adult moths emerge in the spring, lay eggs and infest crops.

 

Codling moth larva feeding on walnuts. During winter, the larvae form cocoons and live the bark of trees.
Codling moth larva feeding on walnuts. During winter, the larvae form cocoons under bark flakes and in crevices of orchard trees.
 

We evaluated bird predation of codling moth using “sentinel prey” and exclosure cages. We glued codling moth cocoons to walnut trunks and covered them with cages, allowing insects and spiders to access the cocoons, but not bird predators. This allowed us to count how many larvae were eaten inside and outside of the cages to estimate pest reduction by birds.

 

Codling moth larva cocoon in a cage, excluding birds. Image by Sacha Heath.
Codling moth larva cocoon in a cage, excluding birds. (Photo: Sacha Heath)

 

Codling moth larva cocoon outside a cage, eyed by a northern flicker, a predator of codling moth pests. Video still by Sacha Heath.
Codling moth larva cocoon outside a cage, eyed by a northern flicker, a predator of codling moth pests. (Video still: Sacha Heath)

 

What did we find?

Natural enemies, like parasitic wasps and lacewings, alone reduced codling moth larval numbers by 11%; adding birds into the pest control system reduced them by 46%! Nuttall's woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches did a lot of the work; these birds travel up and down the trunks of trees, searching for insects.

Above, a white-breasted nuthatch preys on a codling moth larva “sentinel cocoon” on a walnut tree. Video by Sacha Heath.

 

Alfalfa weevils are no match for insectivorous birds

Alfalfa weevils are key pests of alfalfa, reducing yields and hay quality if left uncontrolled. Dr. Sara Kross looked at bird predation of this pest by excluding birds from alfalfa plants via cages, and counting the number of weevils inside and outside the cages. She found that birds reduced the number of weevils by more than 30%, showing their importance in helping to protect alfalfa from this serious pest.

 

Bird exclusion cages were used to show that birds feed on alfalfa weevils, helping to protect alfalfa from this key insect pest. Image by Sara Kross, Yolo County alfalfa field.
Bird exclusion cages were used in a Yolo County alfalfa field to show that birds feed on alfalfa weevils, helping to protect alfalfa from this key insect pest. (Photo: Sara Kross)

 

Does field edge habitat, like hedgerows, help attract beneficial birds?

Yes! Hedgerows are important habitat for beneficial birds, serving as nesting, foraging and roosting sites. In a study in the Sacramento Valley, crop margins with hedgerows, tree lines and riparian buffers harbored up to six times more birds and up to three times more bird species than bare or weedy margins.

Walnut orchards adjacent to hedgerows and riparian areas had higher numbers of beneficial birds along with more species. In alfalfa, there were more beneficial birds in fields when at least two tall trees were present along the field edges. More beneficial birds were associated with better pest control, that is, fewer codling moth cocoons and alfalfa weevils.

 

A native plant woody hedgerow in Yolo County, California. Image by Sacha Heath.
A native plant woody hedgerow in Yolo County, California. (Photo: Sacha Heath)
 

Birds have large territories, fly long distances, and are influenced by what happens on the farm as well as by what happens in the landscape around the farm. For example, we found that codling moth predation by birds greatly increased in walnut orchards as the amount of habitat in the landscape around the orchards increased (including hedgerows, tree lines, riparian and oak woodlands, and grasslands).

More habitat in agricultural landscapes (such as riparian habitat along Cache Creek, left) brought in more beneficial birds to farms compared to less habitat (right). Google Earth image.
More habitat in agricultural landscapes (such as riparian habitat along Cache Creek, left) brought in more beneficial birds to farms compared to less habitat (right). (Image: Google Earth)

 

Will hedgerows increase the numbers of pest birds?

Pest birds are present on farms regardless of field edge habitat (such as weedy vegetation or hedgerows). Cases will be different, depending on the crop, but in the fields and orchards of Yolo County, researcher Hillary White (formerly with UCCE and now with U.S. Fish and Wildlife) found that three of the most common avian crop pests (American crow, red-winged blackbird and Brewer's blackbird), were up to 10 times more abundant in agricultural fields with bare or weedy margins than in fields with hedgerows.

A red-winged blackbird in winter wheat, Yolo County, California. Image by Sacha Heath.
A red-winged blackbird in winter wheat, Yolo County, Calif. (Photo: Sacha Heath)

 

What can I do to attract beneficial birds to my farm?

Our avian research team has been quantifying the conditions under which birds are helpful or harmful to growers. We are looking for ways to help farmers create bird habitat on their farms to harness the beneficial pest control services birds can provide, while also protecting crops from the damaging effects of some bird species. This information is available in the new publication “Supporting Beneficial Birds and Managing Pest Birds,” co-authored by the Wild Farm Alliance and Drs. Kross and Heath, and technically advised by UC Cooperative Extension and several farmers. This is a user-friendly guide for farmers and conservation practitioners, with the goal of co-managing farmlands for biodiversity and farming.

A loggerhead shrike, an insect predator, perches on elderberry on a Sacramento Valley farm.  Image by Sacha Heath.
A loggerhead shrike, an insect predator, perches on elderberry on a Sacramento Valley farm. (Photo: Sacha Heath)

 

Dr. Sacha Heath received her PhD from UC Davis's Graduate Group in Ecology and will soon be starting a postdoctoral fellowship with the Living Earth Collaborative in St. Louis, Missouri.

A white-breasted nuthatch preys on a codling moth larva “sentinel cocoon” on a walnut tree. (Video still: Sacha Heath)
A white-breasted nuthatch preys on a codling moth larva “sentinel cocoon” on a walnut tree. (Video still: Sacha Heath)

A white-breasted nuthatch preys on a codling moth larva “sentinel cocoon” on a walnut tree. Video still by Sacha Heath.

Posted on Wednesday, April 24, 2019 at 8:37 AM
Tags: alfalfa (36), birds (9), hedgerows (9), IPM (41), orchards (3), Rachael Long (39), Sacha Heath (1), walnuts (21)

Why mud daubers are on spider patrol

UC Cooperative Extension advisors are on the front line and get the most interesting questions from our community. Someone brought some wasps into our office, and was worried they were invading her home, and wondered how to get rid of them. They were identified by the UC Davis Entomology Museum as black and yellow solitary mud dauber wasps, which are natural predators of spiders, and hence beneficial! Before you reach for that can of insecticide or heaven forbid, a blow torch to control spiders, talk to a UCCE advisor or Master Gardener in your county and read this blog for more information on managing them.

Yellow and black mud dauber wasps are predators of spiders but harmless to people. Adults are about 1-inch in length with true wasp waists!

Here's all you need to know about mud daubers and spider control

That mud you track into your house is nothing compared to what mud daubers can do — and what they do to spiders. Female mud daubers, or wasps, build mud nests for their young — and provision them with spiders.

Where are the nests and what do they look like?  

Female mud daubers, the architects, build those characteristic rectangular mud nests in protected areas of our homes, shops and garages, such as along eaves, walls or ceilings. Mud daubers are black and yellow solitary wasps (Sceliphron caementarium) that hunt spiders for their young. Another wasp, the blue mud wasp, reuses the black and yellow mud dauber wasp nests and primarily preys on black widow spiders.

Mud dauber wasp nests with holes where adults have exited after completing their immature stages.

Do mud daubers sting or bite? 

Mud daubers do not aggressively protect their nests. Unlike hornets and other social wasps, they are generally docile and rarely sting. 

Are mud daubers dangerous?

No, mud daubers are harmless and actually beneficial. They prey on spiders, including black widows, a favorite prey. They pack each cell with up to 25 to 30 spiders for their young. With about 15 to 20 cells per nest, that's over 500 spiders eaten. This is good news, especially for those of us who fear black widow spiders. True, mud daubers can be a nuisance, as their mud nests look messy, but they are generally peaceful.

How do they make their nests?

Females construct their nests by gathering globs of mud in their mandibles (jaws) from a nearby source of wet dirt. They carry the mud to a protected nest site, where they construct a cell. Then they begin hunting for spiders to provision the cell for their young, and lay a single egg inside. When they capture a spider, they sting it, permanently paralyzing it. This preserves the spider until their larvae are ready to eat it. When the cell is full of spiders, the female mud dauber caps it with more mud and builds another cell next to it. After the egg hatches and the food gone, she pupates. When an adult emerges, it opens the cap, leaving holes behind in the nest for the next cycle.

Mud daubers have a low reproductive rate, with about 15 to 20 eggs per female. Adults are active during the day during spring and summer with multiple generations per year. Queens overwinter in the cells in the larval stage. Adults sip nectar from flowers, where the male mud daubers are often found. Mud dauber wasps have good vision and use landmarks to locate nests and hunt spiders. They prefer protected areas where there are plenty of spiders. Sometimes you might see them going in and out of your house vents, hunting for spiders in your basement or attic.

Mud dauber pupa (right) and cells packed with spiders, showing the importance of these wasps for providing natural spider control.

How do mud daubers avoid being eaten by spiders?

Some are able to land on webs without getting entangled, and pluck the web to simulate an insect in distress. When the spider rushes to capture its prey, it becomes a victim of the wasp's paralyzing sting. The wasp then carries it back to her mud nest.

How do you get rid of mud dauber nests?

Although mud daubers are considered beneficial, you can remove the nests by scraping them off with a paint scraper or a knife into a dust pan, and then tossing them or moving them somewhere else where you don't mind their activity. The best time to remove the nests is in the late evenings when wasps are not active, or during the wintertime when they are dormant.

Do I have to worry about getting stung by a wasp or bit by a spider during nest removal?

No, the spiders are paralyzed and the wasps are not aggressive. Mud daubers can sting, but only if directly handled or if they accidentally snag in your clothing.

What's the best way to get rid of spiders?

Overall, spiders are beneficial because they're predators and feed on pests like flies. Most spiders cannot harm people. Those that might injure people — for example, black widows — generally spend most of their time hidden under furniture or boxes, or in woodpiles, corners or crevices. The spiders that we commonly see out in the open during the day are not aggressive toward people. The brown recluse spider has occasionally been brought into California in household furnishings, and other items, but it does not reside here. Spiders enter houses and other structures through cracks and are also carried inside on plants, firewood and boxes. 

According to the UC IPM Spider Management Guidelines, the best approach for controlling spiders in and around your home is to remove hiding spots for secretive spiders such as black widows, and regularly brush or vacuum webs from windows, corners of rooms, storage areas, basements and other seldom used areas. This is effective because their soft bodies generally cannot survive this process. If you see a dust-covered web indoors, it's no doubt an old web that a spider is no longer using.

Why should one protect mud dauber nests?

Because mud daubers eat spiders, especially the cryptic black widows. In the process of cleaning spiders and webs, be sure to try protect those mud nests, because mud daubers naturally help control spiders in and around your home.

Blue mud wasp adults favor black widow spiders. Photo credit: University of Florida Extension.
Posted on Tuesday, December 4, 2018 at 8:05 PM
Tags: IPM (41), Rachael Long (39), spiders (19)
Focus Area Tags: Pest Management

JOB ANNOUNCEMENT :: Urban IPM Educator

UCIPM

JOB ANNOUNCEMENT The UC Statewide IPM Program, which is a part of the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, is hiring for an Urban IPM Educator. This position is part of the Urban and Community IPM unit. Under the direction of the Associate Director for Urban & Community IPM, the...

UCIPM
UCIPM

Posted on Tuesday, October 30, 2018 at 9:18 AM
Tags: announcement (227), IPM (41), Job Posting (6)

Gopher Management in School and Community Gardens

Pocket Gopher: Ag Natural Photography by Ed Williams
Pocket gophers, more commonly known as gophers, are one of the most common vertebrate pests found in school and community gardens. They are known for their extensive burrow system through the soil and also for the damage that they can cause to plants in gardens. Gophers are also known to chew on irrigation systems. They are responsible for soil erosion since they move soil to the surface when they construct their burrow systems. Their tunneling can damage turf and the mounds they leave behind can be tripping hazards.

Pocket gophers are rarely seen above ground but sometimes you can see them popping out of a feeding hole. They are small mammals with small eyes and ears and have fur lined cheek pouches (pockets) for storing food.

Pocket gophers are considered nongame wildlife, which means that they can be managed by any legal means. In school and community gardens there are many options.

Trapping

Trapping is one of the easiest ways to curtail a gopher issue in a school or community garden. It is really important to monitor the issue and insure that the problem does not get out of hand since gophers are very prolific breeders and are easier to manage when there are less of them.

There are many trap options for trapping gophers. It is important to consider public safety when using these tools. Traps are often very tightly sprung and could damage fingers and toes of anybody that unexpectedly steps in a set trap. While research has shown that it is not necessary to cover over your trap sets and close them up, it is important to reduce the risk of exposure to a trap, especially in a school setting. It is recommended that trap sets in this scenario should be covered and inaccessible to youth.

Gopher burrow entrance
Toxicants

There are some toxicants that are available to unlicensed professionals for use on gophers. The most commonly available products are those containing zinc phosphide. These products are applied below the ground and therefore risk of exposure is very low. Bait shyness can be associated with this active ingredient so it is important to monitor the issue and ensure that it is being reduced. Otherwise, you may be applying rodenticide that is not being consumed.

 

 

Fumigation

Fumigation is a common and often successful way to manage gophers. However, many of these products are considered Restricted Use Pesticides and can only be applied by a licensed professional. Products like gas or smoke cartridges are not considered effective for the management of gophers.

Exclusion

Gophers can be excluded from school and community gardens but the costs of installing underground fencing can be cost prohibitive. Instead, consider excluding gophers from smaller areas like raised beds. Remember that gophers can travel above ground too, so if you install wire fencing with a ¾ inch mesh, be sure to extend it above the ground also. Wire baskets can also be used to exclude gophers from the root systems of high value trees and shrubs. You must take care to ensure that these baskets do not restrict the growth of the roots.

For more information on gophers and other vertebrate pest, please visit the UC IPM Pest Notes.

Rat Management in School and Community Gardens.

It is important for food-safety reasons to manage rats in school and community gardens. Rats and other wildlife can carry a number of diseases that can be deposited in the form of urine and feces on fruit, vegetables, and in the soil. Rats can also directly damage fruit and vegetables by consuming the produce entirely or by gnawing on parts of it and making it unfit for human consumption. Norway rats create burrows that can compromise beds and root systems. While rats can also chew on drip irrigation and damage the tubes, it is more common for some other wildlife species to chew on these.

Managing rodents in and around school and community gardens can be difficult. One of the easiest ways to keep many rodents at bay is to remove their food source. Given that the main purpose of a garden is to grow food, it would be counter-intuitive to remove the food. However, there are many management options available to people working in gardens that are trying to protect their food from rat damage. 

Habitat modification and sanitation

Making sure that the landscape surrounding your garden is well maintained may help with the management of rats.  Lots of cover in the form of landscaped shrubs, trees, untrimmed palm trees etc. can provide a lot of harborage for rats to live in. These should be trimmed up and off the ground and should not be densely planted if they are in the area. Compost can provide ample harborage for rats.  It is recommended to not compost food in the immediate vicinity of your garden and any other green waste should be attended to regularly to make sure that rats do not establish colonies in compost piles. Feeding of wildlife is illegal in the State of California. Therefore, the provision of food for any wildlife is illegal.  The provision of food is not only illegal but it can also induce secondary pest problems like rodent outbreaks. The feeding of feral cats should also be strongly discouraged, particularly in areas where their feces could contaminate soils and other food.

Trapping

Trapping can be a very useful tool for the management of rats in gardens. If you have a rat problem in your garden it is important to be realistic about the number of snap traps that will be required to manage the issue. One or two snap traps will not curb a population.  It is important to saturate an area with snap traps. Consider trapping at multiple levels also (inside beds, outside beds, on the ground, on fence lines etc.). Please be mindful of other community garden volunteers. It is important to let them know where snap traps are to reduce the risk of injury on encountering a snap trap.  If you are working in a school, snap traps can be set in the evening and checked in the morning before the children get to the garden. Snap traps should not be set in gardens during the day when children are present unless they are secured in trapping stations that can be provided under contract from a pest management professional. Snap traps can also capture nontarget wildlife such as birds and reptiles. Please be mindful of these when setting traps. Nontarget mortality can be reduced by trapping only at night or by using trapping stations that can exclude nontarget wildlife. It is not advised to live-trap any wildlife in a garden.  Once you trap a rat, under law, you must either release it right where you captured it, or euthanize it humanely.

Rodenticides

The use of rodenticides to manage rats in and around gardens is actually not considered legal.  The majority of rodenticides available for purchase for unlicensed applicators are for structural use only.  It is permitted to have rodenticide in gardens as long as you are using it to control rodents that are invading a man-made structure such as a shed, storage barn, or building.  All rodenticides that are registered to manage rats must be applied in bait stations no more than 50ft away from the man-made structure, although some labels permit going further away (up to 100ft).

 

Placement of snap traps: (a) single trap with trigger next to wall; (b) the double set increases your success; (c) double set placed parallel to the wall with triggers to the outside.

Adapted from The Rat: Its Biology and Control, Howard, W. E., and R. E. Marsh. 1981. Oakland: Univ. Calif. Div. Agric. Sci. Leaflet 2896

Posted on Friday, July 13, 2018 at 6:08 PM
Tags: Community Garden (5), IPM (41), Rat Management (1), Rats (3), School Garden (6)

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