Cover crop mulch and weeds create habitat complexity in agricultural fields that may influence arthropods. Under strip-tillage systems, planting rows are tilled and preestablished cover crops can remain between rows. In field experiments conducted in Michigan in 2010 and 2011, a preestablished oat (Avena sativa L.) cover crop was allowed to grow between rows of strip-tilled cabbage and killed at 0, 9–14, or 21–27 d after transplanting (DAT). The effects of herbicide intensity and oat kill date on arthropods, weeds, and crop yield were examined. Two levels of herbicide intensity (low or high) were used to manipulate habitat vegetational complexity, with low weed management intensity resulting in more weeds, particularly in 2010. Oat kill date manipulated the amount of cover crop mulch on the soil surface. Later oat kill dates were associated with higher natural enemy abundance. Reduced herbicide intensity was associated with 1) lower abundance of several key cabbage (Brassica oleraceae L.) pests, and 2) greater abundance of important natural enemy species. Habitats with both later oat kill dates and reduced herbicide intensity contained 1) fewer herbivores with chewing feeding guilds and more specialized diet breadths, and 2) greater abundance of active hunting natural enemies. Oats reduced cabbage yield when oat kill was delayed past 9–14 DAT. Yields were reduced under low herbicide intensity treatments in 2010 when weed pressure was greatest. We suspect that increased habitat complexity associated with oat mulches and reduced herbicide intensity enhances biological control in cabbage, although caution should be taken to avoid reducing yields or enhancing hyperparasitism.
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