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Effects of ground cover (straw and compost) on the abundance of natural enemies and soil macro invertebrates in vineyards

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1 Herbicides are commonly applied under grapevines in Australia to remove weeds and thereby to avoid water loss through transpiration.

2 Interest in sustainability promotes a reduction in chemical inputs, including herbicides, leading to trials with surface mulches to suppress weeds.

3 Surface mulches may also influence the abundance of a range of invertebrates. Potentially, an increase in natural enemies will contribute to pest control and encourage a reduction in pesticide application.

4 We used three trapping methods and direct soil sampling to assess invertebrates at ground level, in the canopy and in the soil to determine the influence of mulch on natural enemies, potential pests and soil macroinvertebrates, including earthworms.

5 Collections sorted to family demonstrated that the addition of straw or compost mulches increased natural enemies collected with pitfall traps and soil organisms. However, there was no clear indication of the overall superiority of either mulch.

6 Abundance of ground beetles, parasitoid Hymenoptera and spiders collected with pitfall traps were increased by the addition of mulches. In the canopy, predatory and parasitic Diptera and predatory Hemiptera increased after mulching.

7 Earthworms collected by hand sorting soil increased with straw mulching.

8 No influence on pests was detected. Although Lepidoptera and Sigmurethra, collected in pitfall traps, increased with straw mulching, neither included pest species.

9 The results are discussed with reference to the potential economic impact of mulches.

Keywords: Beetles; compost; conservation; natural enemies; straw; water spiders

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Centre for Environmental Stress and Adaptation Research, Zoology Department, University of Melbourne, Parkville Victoria 3010, Australia

Publication date: August 1, 2007


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