Farmers’ perceptions and knowledge of natural enemies as providers of biological control in cider apple orchards

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While the importance of biological control for crop production is widely acknowledged, research on how farmers perceive on-farm natural enemies remains scarce. This paper examines cider-apple farmers' perceptions and knowledge of the concept of biological control and the specific organisms underpinning its provision (i.e. natural enemies) in the cider-apple orchards of Asturias (N Spain). Although these orchards host a high diversity of natural enemies, certain pests continue to be a problem, e.g. the codling moth and the fossorial water vole. By conducting 90 face-to-face surveys, we found that farmers “under-estimated” the importance of biological control and the role played by natural enemies in suppressing pests from cider-apple orchards. Furthermore, farmers were particularly unaware of the indirect benefits of biological control, such as the increased quality and yield of product. Farmers also perceived that different taxa of natural enemies contribute to biological control to differing extents, for example, birds, such as buzzard, robin and tit, were perceived as the most important natural enemies, while arachnids and insects (excluding ladybug) were perceived as less important. This perceived difference in the biological control contribution of vertebrates and invertebrates could be influenced by farmers' local knowledge, acquired on-farm through daily experiences, as well as from external sources. In addition, we found that farmers did recognize many interactions between natural enemies and pests, although there were serious misconceptions and knowledge gaps. Finally, we revealed that education level, being a full-or part time farmer rather than a ‘hobby’ farmer, time spent working in agriculture, and orchard size are all factors that positively influence farmer's perception of natural enemies. Our results provide insights for a future management of cider-apple orchards which promotes biological control through: (1) creating initiatives to develop farmers' knowledge regarding biological control and natural enemies, (2) fostering traditional farming systems that contribute to preserving local ecological knowledge of biological control, and (3) establishing networks of farmers so they can learn from each other and share local knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Article number110589
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 15.07.2020

Bibliographical note

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    Research areas

  • Ecosystems Research - Biological control, Ecosystem services, Farmers' knowledge, Local ecological knowledge, Pest predators, Social perception