Display name Aislinn Pearson First name Aislinn Last name Pearson firstname.lastname@example.org Role Scientist Country United Kingdom (UK) Organisation Rothamsted Research Area of Research Biology, Monitoring, Surveillance and Scouting Describe your research
After completing an MSc in Applied Ecology at Imperial College London, where I specialised in Integrated Pest Management (IPM), I did a PhD at Rothamsted Research and Lancaster University. During my PhD I studied the impact of the insect virus Spodoptera frugiperda multiple nucleopolyhedrovirus on the migratory ability of the fall armyworm. This virus is also commercially available as a biological control agent. More recently I have managed a pilot project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which tested several different technologies for a real-time monitoring of Fall Armyworm in Kenya.
ORCID iD Google Scholar Link Member since December 1, 2020 Topics posted 3 Replies 6
When I was in Kitale, Kenya in November 2019 I was told that there was an outbreak of African armyworm in the nearby vicinity. This was just from speaking with the farmers though - unfortunately we did not have time to scout for the African armyworm ourselves, and confirm the sightings. Your post also reminded me of a paper I read recently, which looked at natural enemy communities and habitat. In simple habitats such as agriculture, natural enemies which are generalists (attack many different kinds of prey) tend to do better than specialists. This is a widely accepted ecological theory with much evidence behind it. What was interesting about this paper though is that it highlights the importance of habitat diversity for natural enemy populations. Of course, we cannot pretend that agricultural land can ever to have the diversity of a forest or grassland - we are using the land to grow food, and for this reason it will always have less diversity than natural habitats - but it suggests to me that diverse cropping systems such as push-pull could also have a benefit to more diverse natural enemy communities, possibly even under situations where there is a new invasive species. We could further assume that including on-farm micro-habitats in and around the crop might benefit this diversity of natural enemies. In the UK wild flower and diverse grass borders around agricultural fields are becoming more popular as one example of micro-habitats. These seem to have little impact on the number of beneficial insects into the crop, but seem likely to play an important role in the conservation of natural enemy communities. These diverse margins cannot be thought of as replacing large wild spaces such as parks and nature reserves of course - it is better to think of them as conserving as much wild space as possible, even in small corners of arable fields. They are also potentially our resevoir of natural enemies should we ever find ourselves faced with a different kind of invasive insect pest. This is the paper if you are interested: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ele.13642 I have always thought the African countries are very fortunate in this respect. Smallholder farming is naturally more diverse than the large scale commercial agriculture, and many of these countries are in a position where there is still diversity to conserve. In the UK for example, we have to think more in terms of habitat restoration than habitat conservation.
December 31, 2020
Hi Sundar, I'd add to your list of reasons that agro-ecological approaches often rely on monitoring - for example, the timing of some biological control options is crucial as they are most effective if the insect is infected in it's early instars. Our experience even on large commercial farms is that there are digital options available for monitoring but they are expensive, even on large commercial farms. The human alternative is scouting (or 'crop walking' as the agronomists here in the UK call it). Ideally this would be combined with pheromone lures to assess the adult immigration. I would personally argue that this should be done for all pesticides/ agronomic approaches because it means that you are targeting your pesticide use - good for the environment, but also essential for economic reasons. My personal view is that the digital pheromone traps have great potential to validate the larger scale pest models, but that the industry has not yet found a good economic model to support this technology - especially for smaller farms, with lower margins. I also believe these models are useful, but even with a pest prediction model farmers will still need to be out scouting in their crop at least once a week. This is time consuming however, and for this reason perhaps not done as often as it should be in some cases. This brings me onto my second observation. In my experience working in UK and African agriculture, I have found that some farmers/ agronomists enjoy engaging in the agro-ecological aspects of their work, and others don't. For this reason, my opinion is that one of the most important factors is the personality/ approach of the farmer, and also the conditions under which he/ she is farming. For example, I know that the push-pull system works very well for fall armyworm in Kenya but this is best suited to those farmers who have livestock to graze desmodium and can use/ sell the napier grass as feed. It is also a technology poorly suited to medium or large scale farms because it is not compatible with the larger equipment for sowing and harvesting. Even on small scale farms, push-pull technology takes 2-3 years to establish well, not least because there can be a learning curve which requires the farmers to be persistent over many seasons. The innovative farmers interested in such approaches are often more willing to take such risks and invest the time, but for many others it is simply too complex or poorly suited to the conditions under which they are farming. This is just my experience. I hope it is helpful to you.
December 31, 2020
HI Rob, I think this is incredibly useful information, thank you. Also perhaps a more manageable way of monitoring FAW under smallholder conditions if perhaps the operators were paid a small stipend to encourage regular counting and trap updates. Although I assume your traps are run by institutional operators? May I ask how many traps you have across the US, and if you have done any work on validating them at different scales? If there is an online or published map of the monitoring locations that would also be incredibly useful, as well as interesting comparison with the way aphids and moths are monitored as part of the Rothamsted insect survey.
December 20, 2020
Dear Sokame, Thank you so much for posting here. It is always great to have updates on current research. I had a quick look at the list of natural enemies in FAW and noticed that these two species haven't been recorded in the list, and this would also be a new record for Kenya. Would you kindly consider adding them to this list: https://faw.researchcollaborationportal.org/natural-enemies/ Alternatively I would also be happy to add them for you if that is more convenient for you, but it is always preferable that the researcher adds their own entries. It is after all your work, and we would like to have the record submitted in your name. Again, thank you for the update. This is fascinating work and it is great to have it captured here. Aislinn
December 20, 2020