Wetlands, as their name suggests, are areas that are saturated with water, permanently or seasonally, existing at the interface between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Why should wetlands matter to us? Marshes, swamps, bogs and fens, among other types of wetlands, are some of the world’s most biologically diverse ecosystems, with distinctive soil, plants and animals. They can also increase social wellbeing for people by providing food, water, transport networks and accessible greenspace. They play important roles in the environment: purifying water, acting as ‘carbon sinks’ to absorb carbon dioxide, ensuring shoreline stability and controlling floods. A key response to climate change in the UK has been the development of regional and national strategies for the provision of new wetlands to mitigate coastal and inland flooding. While new wetlands can bring many benefits, a potential side effect can be increasing habitats for biting insects such as mosquitoes. The University of Greenwich, including scientists from NRI, is leading a project called WetlandLIFE, which is investigating the cultural and economic values of English wetlands, with a particular focus on managing mosquitoes in wetland environments.
Control of pests is necessary for farmers to reduce crop losses, safeguard livestock and ensure that produce is protected once it’s been harvested and stored. For smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, severe insect damage, low yields and serious post-harvest loss are unfortunately all too common problems, and this is made worse by inadequate access to pest control technologies. One alternative is the use of locally grown pesticidal plants – plants with naturally occurring chemicals that deter or destroy pests. Such plants offer effective control against insect pests while having less impact on beneficial insects such as pollinators and natural enemies of pests, plus they are less costly than synthetic pesticides. An NRI-led project called OPTIONs (Optimising Pesticidal Plants: Technology Innovation, Outreach and Networks) aims to raise awareness about pesticidal plants and the advantages they have over synthetic pesticides to improve people’s livelihoods, and to deliver innovative ways to manage insect pests that are more agro-ecologically sustainable.
Love your greens? So does the diamondback moth – especially brassicas like broccoli and cauliflower, and leafy salad greens – as many growers around the world know. Despite its diminutive size, the diamondback moth has long been considered a ‘super pest’, especially in the tropics, though a warming climate means it is now venturing into the UK and other locations that are becoming suitable for insects. The diamondback moth’s ability to breed rapidly and develop resistance to pesticides costs growers billions of dollars in control measures and lost produce each year. But it is not unbeatable. NRI experts advise growers that the time is right to get smart about pest management.
Invisible insects? The insects in question are not actually invisible, but they do fly high enough for their movement to have gone largely unnoticed. The huge numbers of insects – about 3.5 trillion each year – were recorded flying over the southern UK using a special-purpose vertical-looking radar invented by Professor Joe Riley and Alan Smith during their time at NRI in the 1990s. Their radar was the main technique used in a decade-long insect monitoring study. This long period of continuous monitoring made it possible to produce an overview of total numbers of insects and their ‘biomass’ or amount of living matter, which amounted to about 3,200 tonnes of insects per year. The analyses of this study, carried out by a multinational group of scientists from Exeter University, Rothamsted Research, NRI, and the Hebrew University and the University of Haifa, in Israel, were recently published in Science.
Better nutrition for a growing population is a major challenge of our time. In order to provide a healthy and sustainable diet for all, it is necessary to have a clear and accurate picture of current agricultural food systems. By improving standards for collecting and measuring data and developing innovative methodologies for evaluating agriculture and food systems, scientists will be able to build a robust evidence base which in turn will guide actions to improve nutrition. To that end, NRI has recently been awarded two research grants, both of which are looking to develop innovative methodologies and tools for capturing and measuring data, leading to more effective interventions to improve nutrition.
Rats are everywhere. They cause damage in a multitude of ways, from destroying field crops, to eating and contaminating stored food, spreading serious diseases among people and animals and destroying infrastructure. Rodents can even cause house and farm fires by biting through electrical cables. NRI, together with research teams from six African countries, have been working on a project known as ‘StopRats’ which aims to significantly reduce the impact of rodents on people’s lives.