Pest management – it isn't just about the killing

Nov 05, 2013 by Simon Leather, The Conversation
I’m just a sprayer, the pest manager does the thinking. Credit: ricephotos

To most people pest management brings up images of rats, cockroaches and chemical spraying. Poisoning vermin and insect is only one minor, albeit important, aspect of pest management. Few people know about the intellectual challenge and impact of this profession.

Pest managers are in great demand from industry. There are more positions than suitably qualified graduates. Yet students seem reluctant to train in this area. With global food security increasingly in the news, and governments becoming more aware of the potential disaster looming, the demand for pest managers is only going to increase. So why are young ecologists and biologists so reluctant to enter the field? There are two root causes for this problem in the UK – a lack of exposure to the subject and a misunderstanding of pest managers are and what they do.

Integrated , as it is formally known, is the selection and use of measures to ensure favourable economic, ecological and sociological outcomes. The use of pesticides is only one way to achieve this. An integrated programme could include biological control, the use of resistant plants, the diversification of the farm landscape through conservation headlands (an area where weeds are allowed to grow) and cultural methods such as crop rotation or intercropping (growing crops close to each other). Even scare-crows can be part of such a programme. This, of course, needs to be backed up by a detailed knowledge and understanding of the biology and ecology of the , their natural enemies and the habitats that they live in. All of which makes it quite an intellectual challenge.

The idea of pest management is not an entirely modern one. Benjamin Walsh, a British-born applied entomologist working in the US, said in 1866:

Let a man profess to have discovered some new patent powder pimperlimplimp, a single pinch of which being thrown into each corner of a field will kill every bug throughout its whole extent, and people will listen to him with attention and respect. But tell them of any simple common-sense plan, based upon correct scientific principles, to check and keep within reasonable bounds the insect foes of the farmer, and they will laugh you to scorn.

Pest managers do not just work in domestic and urban situations. They work in agriculture, forestry and horticulture, safeguarding our crops and ensuring global food security. Because of the complexity of the problems facing sustainable crop production today, the role of pest managers needs greater depth and breadth of knowledge than pure ecologists. That is why they need to be familiar with the study of insects, plant pathology, nematology (study of worms) and the application and chemistry of pesticides.

These solutions need to be practical, easily to implement and cost-effective. That is why pest managers also need a good grasp of economics of both pest control and the farming and cropping system. This involves appreciation of the farmer's or forester's year, budgets and targets in terms of yields and profits. There is no point in coming up with the ideal ecological or conservation solution that cannot be implemented because of the constraints of the real world. Pest managers, even those working in academia, interact closely with those on the ground doing the work, to ensure a reduction in pest numbers and abundance, not necessarily eradication.

So when you hear the word pest management in future, don't just think spray, think conservation headlands, beetle banks, , , resistant varieties, chemical ecology, forecasting, monitoring , holistic farming, sociology, economics and sustainability. These are the elements of the armoury most commonly used by pest managers, not pesticides alone. The impact of pest managers is much greater than many appreciate.

Pest management doesn't sound cool, but it should.

Explore further: How to control maple tree pests using integrated pest management

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Biology and management of the green stink bug

Sep 26, 2012

The green stink bug is one of the most damaging native stink bug species in the United States. Stink bugs feeding on cotton, soybeans, tomatoes, peaches, and other crops can result in cosmetic damage as well ...

In battle against flies, don't toss old bulbs

Nov 01, 2013

Restaurants and supermarkets could save millions of dollars by hanging on to bug zapper bulbs instead of tossing them every year as they normally do, a new University of Florida study has found.

50 years of cereal leaf beetle management research

Oct 17, 2011

A new, open-access article in the Journal of Integrated Pest Management provides a review of cereal leaf beetle biology, past and present management practices, and current research being conducted.

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Apr 18, 2014

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

( —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Finnish inventor rethinks design of the axe

( —Finnish inventor Heikki Kärnä is the man behind the Vipukirves Leveraxe, which is a precision tool for splitting firewood. He designed the tool to make the job easier and more efficient, with ...

Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 ...