Conservation biological control and pest performance in lawn turf: Does mowing height matter?

Emily K. Dobbs, Daniel A. Potter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations

Abstract

With >80 million United States households engaged in lawn and gardening activities, increasing sustainability of lawn care is important. Mowing height is an easily manipulated aspect of lawn management. We tested the hypothesis that elevated mowing of tall fescue lawn grass promotes a larger, more diverse community of arthropod natural enemies which in turn provides stronger biological control services, and the corollary hypothesis that doing so also renders the turf itself less suitable for growth of insect pests. Turf-type tall fescue was mowed low (6.4 cm) or high (10.2 cm) for two growing seasons, natural enemy populations were assessed by vacuum sampling, pitfall traps, and ant baits, and predation and parasitism were evaluated with sentinel prey caterpillars, grubs, and eggs. In addition, foliage-feeding caterpillars and root-feeding scarab grubs were confined in the turf to evaluate their performance. Although some predatory groups (e.g., rove beetles and spiders) were more abundant in high-mowed grass, predation rates were uniformly high because ants, the dominant predators, were similarly abundant regardless of mowing height. Lower canopy temperatures in high-mowed grass were associated with slower growth of grass-feeding caterpillars. Higher lawn mowing reduces fuel consumption and yard waste, and promotes a deep, robust root system that reduces need for water and chemical inputs. Although in this study elevated mowing height did not measurably increase the already-high levels of predation, it did suggest additional ways through which bottom-up effects on insect pest growth might interact with natural enemies to facilitate conservation biological control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)648-659
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Management
Volume53
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2014

Keywords

  • Biological control
  • Mowing
  • Pest management
  • Sustainable lawns
  • Turfgrass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Pollution

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