Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Biosciences Seminar Speaker - 19 June 2014

Biosciences Seminar Series - Spring 2014
19 June 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

Fertilizers, insect pests and natural enemies

Prof. Simon Leather

Photo: PA, via

You might well agree that it would be very difficult to live without farming, but did you know that it is also the most damaging human activity to wild nature (e.g. see here)? Hence, research on how to mitigate future impacts is becoming increasingly important, given also the increasing demands of the growing human population, currently at over 7 billion (see here for amazing live statistics). 

A lot of hope has been put into organic farming, as solution to mitigate the negative effect of farming on biodiversity - for example, organic farms appear to have a better soil quality with a larger range of fungi (see here). Unfortunately, things are not that clear, as our next seminar speaker will tell us, Prof. Simon Leather from Harper Adams University (UK).

Simon is an applied entomologist and ecologist with a keen interest in basic and applied research aimed at developing improved biological pest control practices, but his research interests cover also biofuel production and population dynamics of forest and agricultural pests, such as pine weevil and aphids. He appears to have also an inordinate fondness for roundabouts.  


There are many claims made concerning the virtues of organic farming but the evidence is very patchy and often confounded by the number of factors examined.  Our research compared only one aspect of the equation; soil amendments.  

Using cereal and cabbage crops we examined the effect that organic fertilizers had on plant growth, pest abundance and the effectiveness of natural enemies.  In some cases crops fertilized with organic products suffered less pest attack, in others more.  Natural enemy abundance and effectiveness  did not show a clear-cut relationship with either pest abundance or fertilizer type.  

In conclusion, one size does not fit all;  populations of specialist pest herbivores may be increased in organic crops, but generalist pest species may be less of a problem.

Everyone will be most welcome, students included.

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