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On organic coffee farm, complex interactions keep pests under control
Date:8/26/2010

rge populations of scale are found, which is only where the ants are protecting the scale. By suppressing the scale, on which the ants depend for honeydew, the fungus indirectly affects the ants' survival. But that's not all: The fungus also attacks coffee rust, a notorious pest that virtually wiped out coffee production in Sri Lanka (previously known as Ceylon), Java and Sumatra in the mid-19th century and has since infiltrated Central and South America but has not caused serious problems in those areas. White halo fungus only works its magic against coffee rust, however, in the process of conducting major assaults on scale, and those assaults happen only where there's lots of scale---in other words, where the scale is under ants' protection.

In addition to Azteca, other ant species protect scale, and some of these ants are predators of the coffee berry borer and leaf miner, which are also coffee pests. The researchers are still working out the details of the relationships among the various ants and the other species with which they interact.

As the research team continues to discover more species that are part of the web and more complex direct and indirect interactions among all the members, it's increasingly clear that the "nave" view of nature working in harmony closely matches the scientific facts.

"There are many farmers in the tropics who have been on their land for a long time---sometimes many generations---and have seen these things happening and intuitively understand the connections," said Vandermeer. "The stories they tell about the balance of nature sound almost romantic and religious sometimes, but if you just change the words, they start sounding like what we're describing."

Though this study is being done within the confines of a 300-hectare (740 acre) farm in southern Mexico, the researchers believe their approach and findings are more broadly applicable.

"Our view is that interaction webs of this sort
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Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan
rossflan@umich.edu
734-647-1853
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert  

Page: 1 2 3 4

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