Many research projects and management practices in Cornell AES greenhouses harness the power of beneficial insects.

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Beneficial insects support agriculture, protect environments

There are an estimated 10 quintillion insects (that’s 10 plus 17 zeroes) on planet earth and, with the exception of our beloved pollinators, they get mostly bad press: Mosquitoes that spread malaria, ticks that cause Lyme disease, and invasive pests that devastate forests, gardens and crops. But it’s not just the bees we couldn’t live without. In addition to pollinating flowers and farmlands, beneficial insects help control agricultural pests and are critical in maintaining balanced natural ecosystems. Roughly 80 percent of the world’s species are insects, making them the most diverse group of animals in our world.

“Certainly, those of us who work in agriculture and agricultural research spend considerable time trying to control and manage pests, but the truth is that without insects, our global food systems and ecosystems would collapse,” said Margaret Smith, professor of plant breeding and genetics and director of the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (Cornell AES). “Most bird and amphibian species would go extinct without insects to eat, leading to food web consequences that would harm ecosystems and agriculture. More immediately, without birds and insects, many of our food crops that rely on external pollination would disappear. Cornell AES supports a growing body of research focused on how beneficial insects bolster environmental resources and human wellbeing, and on understanding how we can better use their ‘services’ to enhance our agricultural systems.

Here, we explore just a few of the research projects and agricultural management practices that seek to support and benefit from the power of bugs. They include efforts to coax soybeans into achieving higher yields with the help of pollinators, progress on introducing a leaf beetle that could help control invasive water chestnut and use of insects in greenhouses to control other destructive pests while minimizing pesticide sprays. All of these projects rely on Cornell AES’ controlled-environment plant growth facilities, and their experienced greenhouse staff.

Read the full story in the CALS Newsroom.

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