Field experiments with manipulations of natural enemies of plant–feeding insects may show how a diverse enemy group ensures an important ecosystem function such as naturally occurring biological pest control. We studied cereal aphid populations in winter wheat under experimentally reduced densities of: (i) ground–dwelling generalist predators (mostly spiders, carabid and staphylinid beetles); (ii) flying predators (coccinellid beetles, syrphid flies, gall midges, etc.) and parasitoids (aphidiid wasps), and a combination of (i) and (ii), compared with open controls. Aphid populations were 18% higher at reduced densities of ground–dwelling predators, 70% higher when flying predators and parasitoids were removed, and 172% higher on the removal of both enemy groups. Parasitoid wasps probably had the strongest effect, as flying predators occurred only in negligible densities. The great importance of parasitism is a new finding for aphid control in cereal fields. In conclusion, a more detailed knowledge of the mechanisms of natural pest control would help to develop environmentally sound crop management with reduced pesticide applications.

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