Social wasps as agents of sustainable biocontrol

This project is available from the academic year 2020/21 onwards.

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Seirian Sumner

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

Seirian Sumner's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Richard Pearson

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

Richard Pearson's Profile Picture

Project Description:

Bees have been farmed for millennia and, because we value them, significant effort has goes into conserving them. By contrast, we understand little about natural pest-control agents like wasps, which predate on crop pests (e.g. caterpillars). The ecosystem service value of wasps is likely enormous, but under-appreciated because we lack the evidence base to understand and exploit the contributions that predatory wasps make in natural pest control.

This studentship will determine the effectiveness of social wasps as a low-cost, environmentally-sustainable solution for insect pest management. In collaboration with researchers at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the student will conduct predation experiments using populations of social wasps in agricultural and natural ecosystems in Zambia and Malawi, and assess the effectiveness of social wasps in controlling insect populations, especially Fall Armyworm (FAW) – a recently invasive past in Sub-Saharan Africa. The use of natural pest-control agents like social wasps in low-income regions is especially important, where farming is largely small-scale and high-cost pesticides are not affordable.

The student conduct field experiments on wasps to determine their impact on crop pests; they will explore the use of ‘Vesparies’, akin to Apiaries, with a view towards shifting cultural attitudes to value social wasps as natural pest-control agents, in the same way that bees are valued for pollination. The student will measure the impact of social wasps on pest populations, yield and profit and use these data to develop models to estimate the ecological and economic value of social wasps.

The student will spend 6-12 months conducting fieldwork in Zambia, supervised by the CASE partner.

Policy Impact of Research:

The value of wasps as natural enemies of crop pests is unquantified. This project generates the first empirical and quantitative data on the ecological and economic value of wasps. The impact will be significant for small-scale agriculture in low-income regions, like Africa. Results will contribute directly to ongoing efforts in sustainable ecosystem management, thus directly addressing key Sustainable Development Goals.

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