Farmers could help control crop pests by encouraging spider populations, according to new research.
Scientists found that growing wildflowers on non-crop buffer strips of grass increased spider numbers, which feed on crop pests like aphids.
However the research also showed that simply planting wildflower seeds into existing grass buffer strips is not enough, because grasses already dominate the area. To encourage wildflowers to grow, the researchers cultivated the grass strips before planting wildflower seeds, and used a selective herbicide that reduces grass growth.
The technique provides farmers with a low-cost way to improve the biodiversity of their land, without the need to plant new buffer strips.
However, the study only focussed on spiders. Before implementing schemes like this on a wider scale, scientists need to look at the effects of grass-specific herbicide on other invertebrates.
Notes to editors
The research is published in Agricultural and Forest Entomology, and was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Syngenta.
A report on the paper is featured published in the Natural Environment Research Council's (NERC) Planet Earth magazine, at planetearth.nerc.ac.uk
Blake, R. J., Woodcock, B. A., Westbury, D. B., Sutton, P. and Potts, S. G. (2013), Novel management to enhance spider biodiversity in existing grass buffer strips. Agricultural and Forest Entomology, 15: 77-85. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-9563.2012.00593.x