Increased and sex-selective avian predation of desert locusts Schistocerca gregaria treated with Metarhizium acridum

Wim C. Mullié, Robert A. Cheke, Stephen Young, Abdou Baoua Ibrahim, Albertinka J. Murk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

The entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium acridum in oil-based formulations (Green Muscle® (GM)) is a biopesticide for locust control lacking side-effects on biodiversity, unlike chemical insecticides. Under controlled conditions, GM-treated locusts and grasshoppers attract predators, a complementary advantage in locust control. We assessed avian predation on a population of desert locusts in northern Niger aerially sprayed operationally with GM with 107 g viable conidia ha-1. Populations of adult locusts and birds and vegetation greenness were assessed simultaneously along two transects from 12 days before until 23 days after treatment. Common kestrels Falco tinnunculus and lanners F. biarmicus were the predominant avian predators. Regurgitated pellets and prey remains were collected daily beneath "plucking posts" of kestrels. Locusts started dying five days post-spray and GM had its maximum effect one-two weeks after the spray, with 80% efficacy at day 21. After spraying, bird numbers increased significantly (P<0.05) concurrent with decreasing desert locust densities. Locust numbers decreased significantly (P<0.001) with both time since spraying and decreasing greenness. Before spraying, kestrel food remains under plucking posts accounted for 34.3 ±13.4 prey items day-1, of which 31.0 ±11.9 were adult desert locusts (90.3%), reducing post-spray to 21.1 ±7.3 prey items day-1, of which19.5 ±6.7 were adult desert locusts (92.5%), attributable to decreased use of the plucking-posts by the kestrels rather than an effect of the spray. After spraying, kestrels took significantly (P<0.05) more larger female (75-80%) than smaller male (20-25%) locusts. Avian predation probably enhanced the impact of the GM on the desert locust population, especially by removing large adult females. No direct or indirect adverse side-effects were observed on non-target organisms including locust predators such as ants and birds. These substantial ecological advantages should also be considered when choosing between conventional chemical and biopesticide-based locust control.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0244733
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume16
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2021

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