‘Tidy’ and ‘messy’ management alters natural enemy communities and pest control in urban agroecosystems
Cite this dataset
Egerer, Monika (2022). ‘Tidy’ and ‘messy’ management alters natural enemy communities and pest control in urban agroecosystems [Dataset]. Dryad. https://doi.org/10.7291/D15H4V
Agroecosystem management influences ecological interactions that underpin ecosystem services. In human-centered systems, people’s values and preferences influence management decisions. For example, aesthetic preferences for ‘tidy’ agroecosystems may remove vegetation complexity with potential negative impacts on beneficial associated biodiversity and ecosystem function. This may produce trade-offs in aesthetic- versus production-based management for ecosystem service provision. Yet, it is unclear how such preferences influence the ecology of small-scale urban agroecosystems, where aesthetic preferences for ‘tidiness’ are prominent among some gardener demographics. We used urban community gardens as a model system to experimentally test how aesthetic preferences for a ‘tidy garden’ versus a ‘messy garden’ influence insect pests, natural enemies, and pest control services. We manipulated gardens by mimicking a popular ‘tidy’ management practice – woodchip mulching – on the one hand, and simulating ‘messy’ gardens by adding ‘weedy’ plants to pathways on the other hand. Then, we measured for differences in natural enemy biodiversity (abundance, richness, community composition), and sentinel pest removal as a result of the tidy/messy manipulation. In addition, we measured vegetation and ground cover features of the garden system as measures of practices already in place. The tidy/messy manipulation did not significantly alter natural enemy or herbivore abundance within garden plots. The manipulation did, however, produce different compositions of natural enemy communities before and after the manipulation. Furthermore, the manipulation did affect short term gains and losses in predation services: the messy manipulation immediately lowered aphid pest removal compared to the tidy manipulation, while mulch already present in the system lowered Lepidoptera egg removal. Aesthetic preferences for ‘tidy’ green spaces often dominate urban landscapes. Yet, in urban food production systems, such aesthetic values and management preferences may create a fundamental tension in the provision of ecosystem services that support sustainable urban agriculture. Though human preferences may be hard to change, we suggest that gardeners allow some ‘messiness’ in their garden plots as a “lazy gardener” approach may promote particular natural enemy assemblages and may have no downsides to natural predation services.
United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture Award, Award: #2016-67019-25185
United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture Award, Award: #2020-67020-31158