Science into practice: Biological control for sciarid and shore flies

Sciarid and shore flies are common pests and contaminants of many protected and ornamental crops. Sciarid fly larvae damage roots and shore flies cause marketing problems in herbs, pot plants and celery due to flies or droppings on the marketed plants or pots.

A native predatory rove beetle, Atheta coriaria, feeds on the eggs and larvae of both pests and recently became available as a biological control. However, Atheta beetles are expensive and have given variable results. Previously, in HDC project PC 239, knowledge on Atheta biology, rearing methods and potential as a biocontrol agent in integrated pest management programmes was reviewed and a simple, practical and inexpensive DIY method using turkey-rearing food was developed for growers to rear and release large numbers of Atheta.

PC 239a looked at a number of issues so that practical guidelines for rearing Atheta on the nursery might be possible. Commercially recommended release rates were found to be too low. In a trial with pot-grown parsley, good control of sciarid flies was achieved with a rate of Atheta equivalent to 500 per square metre, which would be too expensive if buying the beetles but possible if DIY-reared.

Within a week of placing rearing-release boxes of Atheta in a shore-fly-infested lettuce crop, the beetles had dispersed of their own accord and started breeding throughout a 2,000sq m glasshouse - so there would be no need to make direct releases.

The project has shown that growers could save money by on-nursery rearing of Atheta rove beetles for control of sciarid and shore flies. The HDC will be publishing a fact sheet shortly.


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