Intensive use of pesticides is common and increasing despite a growing and historically well documented awareness of the costs and hazards. The benefits from pesticides of increased yields from sufficient pest control may be outweighed by developed resistance in pests and killing of beneficial natural enemies. Other negative effects are human health problems and lower prices because of consumers' desire to buy organic products. Few studies have examined these trade-offs in the field. Here, we demonstrate that Nicaraguan cabbage (Brassica spp.) farmers may suffer economically by using insecticides as they get more damage by the main pest diamondback moth, Plutella xylostella (L.) (Lepidoptera: Plutellidae), at the same time as they spend economic resources on insecticides. Replicated similarly sized cabbage fields cultivated in a standardized manner were either treated with insecticides according common practice or not treated with insecticides over two seasons. Fields treated with insecticides suffered, compared with nontreated fields, equal or, at least in some periods of the seasons, higher diamondback moth pest attacks. These fields also had increased leaf damage on the harvested cabbage heads. Weight and size of the heads were not affected. The farmers received the same price on the local market irrespective of insecticide use. Rates of parasitized diamondback moth were consistently lower in the treated fields. Negative effects of using insecticides against diamondback moth were found for the density of parasitoids and generalist predatory wasps, and tended to affect spiders negatively. The observed increased leaf damages in insecticide-treated fields may be a combined consequence of insecticide resistance in the pest, and of lower predation and parasitization rates from naturally occurring predators that are suppressed by the insecticide applications. The results indicate biological control as a viable and economic alternative pest management strategy, something that may be particularly relevant for the production of cash crops in tropical countries where insecticide use is heavy and possibly increasing.
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Vol. 104 • No. 3