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Definition of biocontrol: What is it and what are the different types?

Theme: Basics of biocontrol

Biocontrol is a sustainable approach to the management of agricultural and environmental pests.

Here we briefly explain the definition of biocontrol and the different types of biocontrol methods for managing pest problems.


What is biocontrol?

Biological controls (also known as biocontrols or biopesticides) are pest and disease control options using living organisms and naturally-sourced compounds. The International Biocontrol Manufacturers Association (IBMA), the voice of the Biocontrol technologies industry, defines biocontrol (or biological control) as:

Pest and disease control for plant protection based on living organisms and naturally-sourced compounds.”

There are several types of biocontrol. These are:

  • Conservation biological control
  • Augmentative biological control
  • Classical biological control

For an illustration of what is meant by biological control watch this short video from the EU BIOCOMES project:

What is natural biological control?

Natural biological control is an ecosystem where pests are regulated by natural enemies without human intervention. This could be the situation in unmanaged natural systems such as tropical forests, as compared to agricultural systems.

What is conservation biological control?

Conservation biological control seeks to actively protect and enhance the abundance or activity of naturally occurring natural enemies (and microbes) & pollinators, by providing:

  • Alternative hosts
  • Food (energy) sources
  • Shelter and refuge habitat
  • Appropriate microclimates
  • This type of approach also aims to avoid negative effects on beneficials, most of all by pesticides.

An example is the installation of border crops (including hedgerows) in agricultural areas, containing pollen producing plants, nectar producing plants, plants which harbour alternative hosts for natural enemies (banker plants) these provide shelter, nectar, pollen and alternative hosts for natural enemies and pollinators.

What is augmentative biological control?

Augmentive biological control is the periodical release of large numbers of natural enemies (or microbes) in a specific area. This can be either inoculative or inundative.

A beneficial organism is able to perform well when the pest is seasonally present in damaging numbers, even though it is unable to persist in sizeable numbers the year round. The introduction of relatively small numbers of such species that are present in the ecosystem albeit at insufficient numbers has been termed inoculative periodic colonization.

In contrast, in inundative releases, large releases are made to effect short term control of a pest. Inundative releases simulate pesticide treatments, and the agent simply reduces, rather than regulates, the pest population. Examples are the mass production and release of Trichogramma spp against corn borer species. However, sometimes differences become less clear, as for instance Trichogramma will reproduce in the fields after release thus resembling to some degree inoculative releases. Also in sugarcane, cotton and vegetables, small, inoculative releases of Trichogramma early in the season have proved just as effective in controlling moth pests as regular, massive releases throughout the season.

What is classical biological control?

Classical biocontrol involves the introduction of a host specific natural enemy (or microbe) from the centre of origin or diversity of a pest organism to manage the pest. This is approach is usually used against invasive alien species which have moved from their centre of origin or diversity to a new area without their coevolved natural enemies.

The classical biocontrol approach has been successfully used for many weed and insect pests including the use of the rust, Maravalia cryptostegiae, to manage rubber-vine weed, Cryptostegia grandiflora in Australia and  the control of the Pink Hibiscus mealybug  Maconellicoccus hirsutus in the Caribbean, using the predatory beetle Cryptolaemus montrouzieri and the hymenoptern endoparasitoids Anagyrus kamali and Gyranusoides indica.

More information can be found in Types of biocontrol agents

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