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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Nov 11;94(23):12243-8.

A total system approach to sustainable pest management.

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  • 1Insect Biology and Population Management Research Laboratory, Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, P.O. Box 748, Tifton, GA 31793, USA.


A fundamental shift to a total system approach for crop protection is urgently needed to resolve escalating economic and environmental consequences of combating agricultural pests. Pest management strategies have long been dominated by quests for "silver bullet" products to control pest outbreaks. However, managing undesired variables in ecosystems is similar to that for other systems, including the human body and social orders. Experience in these fields substantiates the fact that therapeutic interventions into any system are effective only for short term relief because these externalities are soon "neutralized" by countermoves within the system. Long term resolutions can be achieved only by restructuring and managing these systems in ways that maximize the array of "built-in" preventive strengths, with therapeutic tactics serving strictly as backups to these natural regulators. To date, we have failed to incorporate this basic principle into the mainstream of pest management science and continue to regress into a foot race with nature. In this report, we establish why a total system approach is essential as the guiding premise of pest management and provide arguments as to how earlier attempts for change and current mainstream initiatives generally fail to follow this principle. We then draw on emerging knowledge about multitrophic level interactions and other specific findings about management of ecosystems to propose a pivotal redirection of pest management strategies that would honor this principle and, thus, be sustainable. Finally, we discuss the potential immense benefits of such a central shift in pest management philosophy.

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