Impacts of Contrasting Alfalfa Production Systems on the Drivers of Carabid Beetle (Coleoptera: Carabidae) Community Dynamics

Environ Entomol. 2015 Aug;44(4):1052-64. doi: 10.1093/ee/nvv104. Epub 2015 Jul 9.


Growing concerns about the environmental consequences of chemically based pest control strategies have precipitated a call for the development of integrated, ecologically based pest management programs. Carabid or ground beetles (Coleoptera:Carabidae) are an important group of natural enemies of common agricultural pests such as aphids, slugs, and other beetles. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) is one of the most common forage crop species in the semi-arid western United States. In 2011, Montana alone produced 4.0 × 10(6 )Mg of alfalfa on 8.1 × 10(5 )ha for gross revenue in excess of US$4.3 × 10(8), making it the third largest crop by revenue. We conducted our study over the 2012 and 2013 growing seasons. Each year, our study consisted of three sites each with adjacent systems of monoculture alfalfa, alfalfa nurse cropped with hay barley, and an uncultivated refuge consisting of a variety of forbs and grasses. Carabid community structure differed and strong temporal shifts were detected during both 2012 and 2013. Multivariate fuzzy set ordination suggests that variation in canopy height among the three vegetation systems was primarily responsible for the differences observed in carabid community structure. Land managers may be able to enhance carabid species richness and total abundance by creating a heterogeneous vegetation structure, and nurse cropping in particular may be effective strategy to achieve this goal.

Keywords: Carabidae; alfalfa production; community assembly; conservation biocontrol; multivariate fuzzy set ordination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / methods*
  • Animals
  • Biodiversity*
  • Coleoptera / physiology*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Medicago sativa
  • Models, Biological
  • Montana
  • Population Density
  • Population Dynamics
  • Seasons