A new analysis reveals that agriculture needs a new approach to countering insect resistance to biopesticides

Insect pests that attack crops have extraordinary abilities to develop resistance to greener pesticides, and a new way to manage resistance risk is needed, according to an analysis by University of Stirling scientists.

For more than 70 years, agriculture’s response to pesticide resistance has been to search for new pesticides in an endless race to keep up with the pest’s evolution.

Now researchers are proposing a new way out of this treadmill as farmers embrace the ongoing green revolution in pest control by turning to biopesticides derived from natural organisms.

The evolution of biopesticide resistance – a critical tool in developing sustainable crop protection – has huge implications for food security around the world as the world’s population grows.

In an effort to address this emerging challenge, researchers have published principles from basic evolutionary ecological sciences and proposed a practical framework for managing the risk of developing biopesticide resistance.

They suggest that farmers can help manage the risk of resistance by growing a variety of crops and using multiple biopesticides.

The study was funded by a joint international partnership between the Newton Fund and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) in the UK and the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) in Brazil, together with the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet).

Scientists from the School of Natural Sciences Stirling, working with colleagues at the University of Gothenburg and São Paulo State University, have synthesized existing biopesticide research and argued that the evolution of resistance is already occurring and is likely to become widespread as biopesticide use continues to increase.

Dr Matthew Tinsley, Senior Lecturer in Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Stirling, said: “People are dwindling – they think biopesticides are derived from natural sources, it will be more difficult for pests to develop resistance, but we still need to worry about pest resistance to these new agents. .

“The lead time for biopesticide development is five to 10 years, so if we wait to take action, we will miss out on these new agents because the pests have already evolved.”

Dr Rosie Mangan, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Stirling, added: “New approaches to managing resistance to these crop protection products are needed to avoid the same mill of invention and loss as happened to chemical pesticides.

“Our perspective is that farmers can help manage the risk of resistance by growing a variety of crops and using multiple biopesticides. This will reduce the spread of resistance and help maintain the effectiveness of biopesticides in the long term.”

The new paper, “Increased environmental heterogeneity can constrain the evolution of biopesticide resistance,” is published in Trends in ecology and evolution. It forms part of the broader project Stirling is leading, ENDORSE (Enhancing Diversity to Overcome Evolution of Resistance).

Dr. Tinsley and Dr. Mangan worked with Dr. Luc Bossière (University of Gothenburg) and Dr. Ricardo Polanczek (Sao Paulo State University) on the study.

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