Share this page:
Other services (opens in new window)
Sets a cookie

Beetles play an important role in reducing weeds

25 July 2011

Researchers funded by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the French Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) have found that ground beetles reduce the amount of weed seeds in the soil. Weeds reduce crop yields and these findings support the need to conserve farmland biodiversity as it plays an important supporting role to herbicides in controlling weeds and improving food security.

This research confirms a long-held belief by scientists that ground beetles play a role in weed control. Dr David Bohan, Rothamsted Research, who led the research, said "seed predation by naturally occurring beetles in farmland does have a beneficial effect, reducing weed numbers in fields and potentially improving agricultural productivity."

P cupreus and P melanarius. Image: Dr David Bohan

P cupreus and P melanarius.
Image: Dr David Bohan

The study, to be published in the August edition of Journal of Applied Ecology, used data from 257 conventionally managed fields throughout the UK to determine the effect that ground beetles have on the number of weed seeds in the soil of sugar beet, maize, and spring and winter oilseed rape fields.

The researchers found that grass weeds were reduced more than other weeds, which is important because many UK farms have severe grass weed problems. Some of these species are increasingly resistant to herbicides and have a major impact on productivity as they compete with the crop for resources, leading to lower yields. Policy-driven reduction in herbicide use could lead to higher numbers of weeds in fields, so alternatives to herbicides have the potential for significant impact.

Ground beetles appear to eat a significant proportion of the weed seeds that would otherwise go into the soil. With the right management, ground beetles could be used to replace some herbicide applications and significantly reduce weed populations. 'Beetle banks', which involve leaving an area of a field as a wildlife habitat, are already supported under the Environmental Stewardship schemes available to farmers.

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive, BBSRC said "We have a challenge to feed 9 billion people by 2050 and to do so we must engage in research now that will underpin improvements in yield and sustainability of farming in the future. By studying whole biological systems such as farm ecosystems we can spot the various contributions made by different aspects of a system, including these beetles. This project shows that the balance of farm ecosystems can be vital to ensuring sustainability in farming in the future. It also makes the link between biodiversity and food security very clear."

ENDS

About INRA

INRA is a mission-oriented public research institute under the supervision of the French Ministries for Research and Agriculture, and carries out research in the fields of agriculture, food and the environment. As the leading agricultural research institute in Europe, and the second largest in the world for the number of its publications, INRA aims at ensuring healthy and high-quality food, competitive and sustainable agriculture and an environment that is preserved and developed, in the context of global climate change and a projected world population of 9 billion by 2050. INRA maintains scientific partnerships with major scientific research institutes worldwide, universities, agronomy and veterinary schools, and is committed to take part in building the European Research Area.

For more information see: www.international.inra.fr

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences and the largest single public funder of agriculture and food-related research.

Sponsored by Government, BBSRC’s budget for 2011-12 is around £445M which it is investing in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.