Beneficial species (Carabidae and Staphylinidae) respond to tillage practices


Stokes-Rees, J. and Scott, I. 2022. Beneficial species (Carabidae and Staphylinidae) respond to tillage practices. Oral presentation for the Living Labs Ontario Summer Field Days, No-till potato, Orchard Hill Farm, St. Thomas, Ontario, August 29, 2022.

Plain language summary

Agricultural practices that promote sustainability in the agri-ecosystem are key to enhancing productivity, yield and cost-benefits for growers. The objectives of the Ontario Living Laboratories program was to conduct on-farm research in collaboration with growers in order to demonstrate the benefits of practices that reduce or eliminate the need for tillage. One farm that uses cover crops prior to planting vegetable crops to replace tillage over the season was chosen for field trials to examine the effects on pest and beneficial insects. Over the course of the potato crop growth the farmer assessed feeding damage and the presence of Colorado potato beetles in rows where tillage had been used to reduce weeds compared to the growth of cover crops. AAFC researchers monitored ground beetles using pitfall traps during the same period to assess differences between the 2 practices. It was observed that fewer potato beetles were found on potato plants grown with cover crop, while in contrast there was a greater abundance of ground beetles collected in the same rows. The field day presentation highlighted these findings to those in attendance.


Farmers are familiar with the soil organisms that cause harm to valuable crops such as pathogenic microbes or root-eating grubs. Less is known about soil organisms that can benefit agroecosystems. Examples of beneficial arthropods include carabid beetle larvae that prey on pests, or earthworms that decompose and cycle nutrients. By measuring the richness of mesofauna and macro-invertebrates, as well as the ratio of pests:beneficial organisms, it is possible to extrapolate a level of soil quality that can be a goal for sustainable or resilient farmland. The biodiversity component of ONLL project was interested in comparing the abundance and diversity of soil organisms found after two farming practices: tilling and no-till + cover crop. Tilling is used to eliminate weeds prior to crop transplantation/seeding. However, the long-term impacts of tilling are recognized as detrimental to soil quality. We know that tilling dries out and erodes the soils, draining it of available nutrients and making it inhabitable to many soil life-forms. A no-till or low-till practice, such as that conducted at Orchard Hill Farms, uses a cover crop method to suppress weeds instead.

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