The effects of an autumn-planted, spring-killed, grass cover crop (Elymus trachycaulus [Link] Gould ex Shinners) on populations of Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte and its predator community were evaluated in South Dakota maize fields over two seasons. Abundance and size of D. virgifera larvae and adults and sex ratio of adults were measured in maize produced under two treatments (i.e., a winter cover crop or bare soil), as were maize root damage and the abundance and diversity of the predator communities collected on the soil surface and in the soil column. First and second instars and adults of D. virgifera were similarly abundant in the two treatments, but third instars were significantly fewer in maize planted after a winter cover crop. Larvae developed at different rates in the two treatments, and second instars were significantly smaller (head capsule width and body length) in the maize planted after a cover crop. First and third instars and adults were of similar size in the two treatments, and adult sex ratios were also similar. Although initially similar, predator populations increased steadily in the cover-cropped maize, which led to a significantly greater predator population by the time D. virgifera pupated. There was significantly less root damage in the cover-cropped maize. Predator communities were similarly diverse in both treatments. Predator abundance per plot was significantly and negatively correlated with the abundance of third instars per plot. Clearly, winter cover crops reduce D. virgifera performance and their damage to the crop, and we suspect that this reduction is caused by both environmental effects of the treatment on D. virgifera size and development, and of increased predation on the third instars of the pest. Additional data on the impact of cover crops on actual predation levels, grain yield and quality, and farmer profitability, and correlations among pest performance, crop characteristics, and predator populations and behaviors are key components of this system that remain to be addressed.
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