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An ecophysiological model of plant-pest interactions: the role of nutrient and water availability.

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Zaffaroni, Marta 
Cunniffe, Nik J 
Bevacqua, Daniele 


Empirical studies have shown that particular irrigation/fertilization regimes can reduce pest populations in agroecosystems. This appears to promise that the ecological concept of bottom-up control can be applied to pest management. However, a conceptual framework is necessary to develop a mechanistic basis for empirical evidence. Here, we couple a mechanistic plant growth model with a pest population model. We demonstrate its utility by applying it to the peach-green aphid system. Aphids are herbivores which feed on the plant phloem, deplete plants' resources and (potentially) transmit viral diseases. The model reproduces system properties observed in field studies and shows under which conditions the diametrically opposed plant vigour and plant stress hypotheses find support. We show that the effect of fertilization/irrigation on the pest population cannot be simply reduced as positive or negative. In fact, the magnitude and direction of any effect depend on the precise level of fertilization/irrigation and on the date of observation. We show that a new synthesis of experimental data can emerge by embedding a mechanistic plant growth model, widely studied in agronomy, in a consumer-resource modelling framework, widely studied in ecology. The future challenge is to use this insight to inform practical decision making by farmers and growers.



agroecology, aphid population model, induced plant defence, plant growth model, plant stress and plant vigour hypotheses, plant–aphid interactions, Animals, Aphids, Herbivory, Nutrients, Water

Journal Title

J R Soc Interface

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The Royal Society


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