Author ORCID Identifier
Year of Publication
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Agriculture, Food and Environment
Dr. John Obrycki
Generalist predators can contribute to vital ecosystem services by potentially inducing trophic cascades as natural enemies of pests in agroecosystems. As the human population of the world gets larger, we need to produce more food on ever-smaller swaths of available land relying on ecosystem services, in the form of pest control, that may contribute to agricultural sustainability. Teasing apart the exact trophic linkages between predators and prey is a vital first step and essential to uncovering which predators are inducing trophic cascades and should be enhanced through conservation biological control.
Combined with ecological experimentation, the main tool used throughout my research to identify trophic linkages is molecular gut-content analysis. I began by investigating mass sampling techniques and found they do not cause contamination in gut-content analysis and may be a simple method for collecting large numbers of cryptic predators for use in determining trophic linkages. Additionally, my research uncovered trophic interactions between stink bugs and generalist predators at multiple scales. Overall, I successfully designed molecular methods to investigate relationships between agricultural pests and generalist predators. A multi-year field study uncovered low predation on stink bug pests in contrast to previous research suggesting that generalist predators were contributing highly to biological control. This research highlights the need for replicated studies before making broad conservation biological control decisions. Although generalist predators were not consuming stink bugs in large numbers, my field cage study showed evidence of superfluous killing by spiders on adult stink bugs, highlighting the need to combine ecological studies with molecular methods to understand consumptive and non-consumptive effects on prey items. Gut-content analysis showed no evidence of consumption, but the field cage study allowed me to uncover the complicated relationships between spiders and stink bugs. In addition, I showed an invasive species can be detected in new areas through molecular gut-content analysis of predators before other sampling methods.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Athey, Kacie J., "Exploring Predator-Prey Interactions in Agroecosystems through Molecular Gut-Content Analysis" (2017). Theses and Dissertations--Entomology. 35.