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Dirt and Bugs: Four-letter Words that Go Together

Bee and soil interaction. Photo by Anna D. Howell .

By Randall Southard, Edwin Lewis, Daniel Hirmas, and Rufus Isaacs

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has designated 2015 as the International Year of Soils. In addition, the Entomological Society of America’s 2015 Annual Meeting will be held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Soil Science Society of America and its sister organizations, the American Society of Agronomy and the Crop Science Society of America.

Our joint symposium at the meeting, “Bugs and Dirt: Four Letter Words That Go Together,” will focus on soil ecology and insects, so it is fitting for the International Year of Soils. The symposium will be held Tuesday, November 17, 2015, 7:55 AM-12:00 noon.

Whether in the backyard, park, or wilderness, insects and other invertebrates directly and indirectly modify and control soil mineral formation and weathering. They also affect other soil physical and chemical properties. Ants and bees, especially, have a unique role in soil mineral processes, and there is an array of methods to study this interaction.

The more nutrients available and diverse microorganisms living in the soil, the more positive its influences are on both predatory and beneficial insects in an area. A balanced soil composition results in a constant overall food and water supply for all insects. This in turn decreases an insect’s aggressive seeking behavior to obtain nourishment and results in less bites and or stings to plants, animals, and humans.

Ants have a dual role of assisting in soil mineralization and being carriers of diseases. A combination of weather patterns, local insect behavior, and soil conditions can easily be mistaken for a contagious disease. By including insects as a possible cause in every disease for plants, animals, or humans, entomological outbreaks can be quickly identified and treated.

Following what is known as “the handful rule” is the first step in determining the cause of a disease. The handful rule involves choosing at least one option from the following five topics: bacterial, viral, fungal, entomological, or other. Entomology plays a vital initial role in determining the health of the environment. It also increases the awareness of the often hidden importance of soil science and entomological influences in our daily lives.

The best environmental protection and treatment for diseases is through improving soil composition. Creating a sustainable soil nutrient cycle is easy to do. It involves growing plants that benefit the soil (green manures), fertilizing, composting, and mulching. The good news is that this solution is also very cost effective and can be easily incorporated into existing environmental programs. It also offers a wonderful opportunity for members of the public, along with the scientific community, to make groundbreaking scientific discoveries. Creating specific techniques for individual areas is just a stepping stone to uncovering new interactions and benefits between dirt and bugs.

We hope to see you at the symposium in Minneapolis in November.

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