Wednesday, December 15, 2010: 10:59 AM
Pacific, Salon 5 (Town and Country Hotel and Convention Center)
Human activity can degrade ecosystem function by reducing species number (richness) and by skewing the relative abundance of species (evenness). In farmlands, agricultural pest management practices often lead to altered food web structure and communities dominated by a few common species, which together contribute to pest outbreaks. Here we show that organic farming methods mitigate this ecological damage by promoting evenness among natural enemies. In field enclosures, very even communities of predator and pathogen biological control agents, typical of organic farms, exerted the strongest pest control and yielded the largest plants. In contrast, pest densities were high and plant biomass was low when enemy evenness was disrupted, as is typical under conventional management. Our results were independent of the numerically dominant predator or pathogen species, and so resulted from evenness per se. Moreover, evenness effects among natural enemy groups were independent and complementary. Our results strengthen the argument that rejuvenation of ecosystem function requires restoration of species evenness, and not just richness. Organic farming potentially offers a means for returning functional evenness to ecosystems.