NEW Zealand researchers are looking to native birds as a natural pest control and a way to reduce pesticide use.
The Plant & Food Research Institute is to catch and release native birds such as tui, bellbird, fantail, grey warbler and silvereye and identify insect DNA from the birds’ faeces to find which insects the birds favour in their diet.
Project leader Karen Mason says birds could prove to be an excellent addition to the orchard ecosystem, particularly if they prefer to eat insect pests over insects that benefit growers,
The study is part of a wider plan to incorporate more native plants and animals into the country’s horticultural production system.
It is hoped the project will provide some insight into another potential tool for growers to reduce chemical pesticides required to grow crops, helping meet the requirements of export markets, retailers and consumers to minimise the environmental impact of food.
Attracting the native birds to apple, wine grape, berry and plum orchards may also have secondary benefits.
“Some of our nectivorous (nectar-eating) birds are highly territorial, so they may help keep other fruit-eating birds away,” Mason says.
“Our native species potentially have so much to offer. We should work with them to build a more sustainable future.”
New Zealand’s NZ$8.8-billion (£4.5-billion) horticulture sector exported NZ$5.12 bill-ion (£2.6 billion) worth of produce last year, accounting for 10.3 per cent of the country’s merchandise income.
The export value of fresh and processed fruit rose 1.4 per cent to NZ$2.82 billion (£1.44 billion) with shipments to 128 countries. Five markets – Australia, Continental Europe, the United States, Japan and China – account for more than two-thirds of the total.
Plant & Food Research chief executive David Hughes says the success of New Zealand horticulture is built on its reputation of delivering high quality and premium products.
“The horticultural industry must keep up the quality and innovate to offer new products that meet international market needs in order to secure our position,” Hughes says.
“Adopting new technologies and best practices to minimise environmental and social impact of the production process will further strengthen our clean, green image in the global marketplace.”