Researchers say that the actions of individual farmers should be considered when studying and modelling strategies of pest control.
Research published in PLOS Computational Biology presents a model to understand the actions of humans and the dynamics of pest populations. The authors demonstrate this by using the example of the European corn borer, a moth whose larval phase is a major pest of maize.
Using game theory the researchers found that the farmers' perceptions of profit and loss, alongside communication networks between individuals, affects pest populations. A farmer's decision on whether to control a pest is usually based on the perceived threat of the pest and the guidance of commercial advisors.
Therefore, farmers in a region are often influenced by similar circumstances, which can create a coordinated response to a pest. This coordinated response, although not intentional, can affect ecological systems at the landscape scale.
Dr Alice Milne, Rothamsted Research scientist who led the study commented: "By understanding the dynamics of farmer decisions we can determine how to manage better the system, through improved communication, subsidy or taxation, to achieve robust and cost effective area-wide control, while minimizing the risk of the evolution of resistance to control strategies".
Dr Milne continued, "In our study we used concepts of game theory to build a model framework for understanding the feedback mechanisms between the actions of humans and the dynamics of pest populations. We demonstrate this framework with an example about the European corn borer".
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