Our focus

Our goal is to translate ecological principles and natural resource management concepts into practical advice directly relevant to the needs of farmers, landholders, and other stakeholders in agri-food chains.

Our emphasis is on management strategies that improve whole farming systems and support ecosystem services, as well as the sustainable protection of specific crops to reduce food loss and waste.

Reducing pest risk in farming systems: Benefits for farmers and the environment

Our team has extensive experience in conducting research that supports the sustainable management of the diverse pest complexes found in mixed farming systems including grain and cotton. We collaborate with other research groups to develop the tools, new knowledge and practices needed to support growers trying to adopt Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in order to reduce the risk of pest outbreaks. Optimal integration of new technology and practices and low impact pesticides into existing systems will ensure that sustainability issues are addressed and environmental impacts are lessened. One of our strengths is the deep understanding of the ecology of pests, natural enemies, and pollinators in agricultural systems. When required for addressing certain research questions, we work closely with other teams within CSIRO and outside CSIRO, who have complementary skills, such as the biotic threats team.

Some outputs from our research can be seen here:

Goundcover supplement 2020 that includes a number of articles from our project (supported by GRDC):

Invertebrate knowledge cards and fact sheets on pest damage.

Area-wide Management of Queensland Fruit fly with SIT (supported by Hort Innovation).

Summary of an IPM trial in grains

The cotton industry in Australia has a well developed IPM strategy that links clearly with their Best Management Practice guidelines. Our role is to support this industry to deliver on their sustainability credentials through the continued testing of novel and soft pesticide options that assesses their impact on  natural enemies and recommended fit within the IPM system. We also develop practical management guidelines for key pests and communicate this information through the Cotton Pest Management Guide. As new technologies start to become available, and new pest impacts are seen, we can test new technologies to make sure they integrate into the existing system well, and don’t have unintended consequences at the field and landscape-scale.

For the full table go to the Cotton Pest Management Guide 2020-21.

TABLE 3 from Cotton Pest Management Guide: Impact of insecticides and miticides on predators, parasitoids and bees in cotton. Born out of a need to combat serious resistance issues, information in this table underpins the crucial roles of soft options in pest management and best management practices across cropping industries.

Our long term goals include working across the cotton and grains industries to further implement the principles of pest-suppressive landscapes to help reduce pest outbreak risk. In mixed production landscapes we need to draw on an extensive tool kit to keep pests below damage threshold levels for as long as possible. A combination of farm-level changes aimed at reducing resources for pests and conserving natural enemies,and an understanding of where landscape-level approaches need to be implemented, supports area-wide management that synchronizes pest management on a large scale to reduce reliance on pesticides and delay resistance.

Development of digital tools for improved decision-making and sustainability credentials

Optimal pest management that uses a diversity of tools to keep pests below threshold and deals with pest outbreaks in a sustainable way involves a complex series of decisions by growers. These decisions need to be informed by the rules and regulations governing safe use of pesticides, the level of risk the grower is prepared to accept, and an ever-changing seasonal forecast that will impact the economic cost-benefit of certain decisions. 

Our team has developed a wide range of computer simulation models and digital approaches that have informed insect pest management decision-making across multiple agricultural systems, with recent examples from our research in Australian grains, horticulture and cotton.  We are now looking to shift our focus to develop novel, highly applied, digital tools for growers and their advisors, based on our advanced knowledge and skills in developing process-based models for research applications.   

Parry, H., Kalyebi, A., Bianchi, F., Sseruwagi, P., Colvin, J., Schellhorn, N. and Macfadyen, S. (2020), Evaluation of cultural control and resistance-breeding strategies for suppression of whitefly infestation of cassava at the landscape scale: a simulation modeling approach. Pest Management Science, 76: 2699-2710. https://doi.org/10.1002/ps.5816

Simulated impact of management practice (time until harvest and double vs. single planting) on the adult whitefly population dynamics over time in regions of Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Insects in the circular economy

Most recently our team has been exploring how insects can act a bio transformers and can be used to break-down and potentially recycle plastic waste. We are also experimenting with fibrous crop residues, such as cotton trash, testing how pre-treatment could breakdown lignocellulose and render it a suitable feed stock for insects, which could then be used as a protein source in the livestock feed sector, especially in aquaculture. Other researchers CSIRO are working on how insect proteins can be used for human food consumption.

Effect of increasing amounts of dietary cotton trash on growth and development of Helicoverpa armigera, a pest species rich in protein.

Partnering for improved biosecurity systems

We collaborate with other research teams both in CSIRO Health and Biosecurity (H&B) and outside CSIRO to address biosecurity research problems. This includes the development of national plans and sitting on biosecurity working groups, working with researchers from the Phytosanitary Systems Approaches area and other teams across H&B. The three main ways we contribute are:

  1. Pre-border biosecurity often manifests as a pest management issue in the partner country. Helping overseas researchers, extension staff, and government departments manage pests in their own farmers’ fields is one way to reduce the risk of movement of exotic pests into Australia.
  2. Host specificity testing and non-target testing of potential new biocontrol agents involves experimental work with live invertebrates. Our team assists others by providing the technical knowledge and facilities to conduct the testing required to secure the permission to import, and eventually release, biocontrol agents.
  3. The movement and dispersal models we develop as part of understanding the ecology of our current pest species can sometimes be applied to biosecurity questions relating to the potential arrival and spread of exotic species.