Types of biocontrol agents

A better understanding of the range of biocontrol agents and the way in which they interact with the target pest can help in the selection of a suitable agent for your production system, but also provide insight into how they can be more effectively used. Here we provide additional information and resources to provide more information on these novel approaches.

What are biocontrol agents?

Biocontrol agents are organisms, or material derived from nature, which are used to manage pest problems.

They  are often grouped into four main types of biocontrol agents:

  • Macrobials are insects, mites and beneficial nematodes that when released will parasitize and feed on pests.
  • Microbials contain bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microorganisms or their metabolites or cell fragments that have the capacity to kill pests or outcompete and prevent diseases.
  • Semiochemicals are message-bearing compounds produced by an animals or plants that can be used to change and disrupt a pest’s normal behaviour.
  • Natural substances obtained from plants, minerals and animals can have antimicrobial, insecticidal or pest repellent activity.

What are macrobials?

Macrobials, also known as invertebrate biocontrol agents, are natural enemies of pests. They include mites, insect predators, parasitioids and entomopathogenic (insect-killing) nematodes (or EPNs)

Useful background information on some key pests and their management with macrobial biocontrol agents can be found in the Applied Bionomics Bio-control Handbook. Some examples are provided below:

Examples of natural enemies
  • Amblyseius swirskii: The predatory mite A. swirskii is one of the most successful commercial natural enemies in covered crops. It is a generalist predator and is used commercially to control the major greenhouse pests; thrips, whiteflies and mites.
    • More information regarding this natural enemy can be found in the BioProtection Portal blog.
    • An example of a successful application of the A. swirskii can be illustrated with a case study from Spain, where it has been used to control pests in honey melon, and also in aubergine production.
    • Watch a video from Bionema to see how the predator A. swirskii actively manages the whitefly pest in the glasshouse.
Examples of entomopathogenic nematodes
  • Steinernema carpocapsae utilizes an “ambush” strategy, waiting near the soil surface for target hosts
  • Heterorhabditis bacteriophora has a “cruiser” strategy, seeking out its target.

What are microbials?

Microbials are micro-organisms, including bacteria, fungi and viruses and may also include their metabolites or fragments of cells.

Examples of fungal biocontrol agents
  • Trichoderma is a fungal bioprotection agent with multiple modes of action. Find out more about Trichoderma on the BioProtection Portal blog
  • Green Muscle™ is based on a specific isolate of a fungus called Metarhizium acridum which attacks locusts and grasshoppers. Find out more about Green Muscle on the CABI website.
Examples of bacterial bioprotection agents
  • Coming soon
Examples of virus bioprotection agents
  • Coming soon

What are semiochemicals?

Semiochemicals are chemicals emitted by organisms which act inter- or intra-specifically as a means of communication. They can act as attractants or repellants and have a specific, non-toxic mode of action.

Examples of semiochemicals
  • Coming soon

What are natural substances?

Natural substances are those materials derived from nature, or when synthesised are indistinguishable from the natural material.

Examples of natural substances
  • Coming soon

Other Resources

Learn biocontrol online

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