February 1, 2022 – June 30, 2022
Tamar Keasar (University of Haifa)
Eric Wajnberg (INRA)
Global crop losses due to arthropods amount to 18-26% of the annual production. Efficient and sustainable pest control strategies are needed to reduce these losses. Many tools for controlling insect pests are available. Among them, biological control by insect natural enemies (predators and parasitoids) has recently gained renewed interest because of environmental concerns and problems encountered with the use of pesticides. Biological control has a long history of use in pest management and has been outstandingly successful in many instances. Nevertheless, such successes remain limited in number and failures are often under-reported. Moreover, biological control programs are still widely practiced as trial-and-error enterprises, rather than being guided by theory-driven principles.
The deficiency in theory-based biological control practices is not only due to insufficient basic information. A wealth of knowledge exists on the behavioral mechanisms employed by insect natural enemies to find and exploit their hosts/prey, as well as on their population dynamics and evolutionary adaptations to their environments. Moreover, a variety of modeling approaches are available to describe these processes and to predict their long-term population-level effects. These include tools such as static and dynamic optimization, game theory, stochastic dynamic modeling, matrix models and genetic algorithms. However, theoretical and empirical knowledge are often being advanced independently, limiting the interplay between the two fields and hence the connection between theory and practice.
Our study group will span the continuum between theoretical approaches (behavioral, population and community ecology) and application (biological control). Our main aim will be to bridge the existing gaps between the well-developed theory of interactions between insects and their natural enemies, and the optimization of the efficacy of biological control projects in agriculture and conservation. This interdisciplinary group will comprise mathematical biologists and experimentalists interested in close collaborations.
Photo credit: Hans Smid (www.bugsinspace.nl)