Habitat management is a type of conservation biological control that focuses on increasing natural enemy populations by providing them with plant resources such as pollen and nectar. Insects are known to respond to a variety of plant characteristics in their search for plant-provided resources. A better understanding of the specific characteristics used by natural enemy insects in selecting these resources could greatly improve efficiency in screening plants for habitat management. We examined 5 previously tested and widely recommended resource plants and 43 candidate plants to test whether the number and type of natural enemies and herbivores at each plant were predicted by plant characteristics including: period of peak bloom, floral area, maximum flower height, hue, chroma, and corolla size. Natural enemy abundance increased with week of peak bloom and greater floral area across all plants tested. Ordination of plant characteristics indicated that increasing floral area, period of peak bloom, maximum flower height, and decreasing corolla width grouped together into a single principal component. Both natural enemy and herbivore abundance increased significantly with the principal component for this set of characteristics, but the relationship with herbivore abundance was weaker. These results indicate that, for a given time of the season, selection of plants with the largest floral area has potential to increase natural enemy abundance in habitat management plantings and streamline plant selection for habitat management.
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