Biological control of an invasive pest eases pressures on global commodity markets uri icon

abstract

  • In an increasingly globalized world, invasive species cause major human, financial, and environmental costs. A cosmopolitan pest of great concern is the cassava mealybug Phenacoccus manihoti (Hemiptera: Pseudococcidae), which invaded Asia in 2008. Following its arrival, P. manihoti inflicted measurable yield losses and a 27% drop in aggregate cassava production in Thailand. As Thailand is a vital exporter of cassava-derived commodities to China and supplies 36% of theworld's internationally-traded starch, yield shocks triggered price surges and structural changes in global starch trade. In 2009 a biological control agent was introduced in Asia-the host-specific parasitoid, Anagyrus lopezi (Hymenoptera: Encyrtidae). This parasitoid had previously controlled the cassava mealybug in Africa, and its introduction in Asia restored yield levels at a continent-wide scale. Trade network and price time-series analyses reveal how both mealybug-induced production loss and subsequent parasitoid-mediated yield recovery coincided with price fluctuations in futures and spot markets, with important cascading effects on globe-spanning trade networks of (cassava) starch and commodity substitutes. While our analyses may not imply causality, especially given the concurrent 2007-2011 food crises, our results do illuminate the important interconnections among subcomponents of the global commodity system. Our work underlines how ecologically-based tactics support resilience and safeguard primary productivity in (tropical) agro-ecosystems, which in turn help stabilize commodity markets in a similar way as pesticide-centered approaches. Yet, more importantly, (judiciously-implemented) biological control can deliver ample 'hidden' environmental and human-health benefits that are not captured by the prices of globally-traded commodities.

publication date

  • 2018
  • 2018