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Relationships between insect pests and weeds: an evolutionary perspective

  • John L. Capinera


Weeds are an important plant resource for insects, although feeding by insects on weeds can have both positive and negative effects on crop productivity. Weeds also indirectly affect crops via their influence on beneficial insects, and by harboring plant and insect diseases. Weeds may affect the ability of dispersing insects to locate crop plants. The host relationship between insects and plants is highly variable, ranging from very specialized to generalized feeding behaviors. Despite the myriad interactions of weeds and insects, many aspects of the relationship are predictable. Most insects, including crop pests, are specialists, and preadapted to feed only on some plants, often within a single plant family. Even polyphagous insects often have a distinct preference hierarchy, feeding more widely only when preferred hosts are unavailable. Use of plants by insects is a dynamic interaction, with characteristics of the insect (e.g., mandible structure) and the plant (e.g., allelochemicals) affecting feeding behavior. Thus, weeds that are closely related to crops are particularly important in harboring insects that attack those crops. Crop production practices should seek to sever the taxonomic association between the crop and the weeds found within the crop, and nearby, by eliminating weeds related to the crop. This will make it less likely that insects will move easily from weed to crop plants, that damaging population densities of insects will develop in the field, and that insect vectors that harbor plant diseases will be harbored in the field. Particularly important integrated pest management practices include crop rotation, reduced use of chemical herbicides, and management of weeds in noncultivated areas.


Corresponding author

Corresponding author. Entomology and Nematology Department, P.O. Box 110620, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611;


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