Insect Pest Communities in Potential Biofuel Grasses of Upper Midwest USA
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With the increasing concern about the use of fossil fuels, cellulosic biofuel crops are gaining additional attention. Two of these potential bioenergy crops are switchgrass and miscanthus, and the majority of research concerning these grasses has concentrated on expected yields, physiology, and cultivation practices. Little attention has been given to the insect pests that may develop on these fast growing crops. To address this issue, a series of experiments were designed to test the host preference of major insect pests as well as the feasibility of current management strategies in biofuel agriculture. Based on observations in other agricultural cropping systems, it was hypothesized that communities of aphids and thrips have the capacity to infest miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Weekly trap counts indicated the population of thrips peaked between late May and early June on miscanthus and switchgrass. Both aphids and thrips were observed to demonstrate certain host preferences when introduced to various biofuel grasses. In addition, higher levels of nitrogen fertilization have the capacity to increase the level of insect damage on switchgrass and other bioenergy crops. This information can provide further insight into the ways in which insect pest communities impact biofuel cropping systems. Research on the pests of potential biofuel crops can then aid in the development of sufficient management strategies and practices for bioenergy agriculture.