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Chapter 16: Pests and Pest Control

16.1 The Need for Pest Control

I. Pest – any organism that is noxious, destructive, or troublesome. This
definition includes a broad variety of organisms that interfere with
humans or with our social or economic endeavors.
A. Agricultural pests are organisms that feed on ornamental plants or
agricultural crops and animals.
B. Weeds – plants that compete with agricultural crops, forests, and
forage grasses for light and nutrients.
C. Bringing these pests under control has three main purposes: to protect
our food, to protect our health, and for convenience.
II. Pesticides are vital elements in the prevention of the diseases that kill and
incapacitate humans. In addition to having agricultural use, pesticides
have become important public-health tools used to combat diseases.
A. Herbicides – chemicals that kill plants
B. Pesticides – chemicals that kill animals and insects considered to be
C. Worldwide, 5.05 billion pounds of pesticides were used in 2001.
D. Insects, plant pathogens, and weeds destroy an estimated 37% of
potential agricultural production in the US. many of the changes in
agricultural technology, such as monoculture and the widespread use
of genetically identical crops, which have boosted yields, have also
brought on an increase in the proportion of crops lost to pests.
III. Chemical treatment seeks a “magic bullet” that will eradicate or greatly
lessen the numbers of the pest organism. Although it has had much
success, this approach gives only short-term protection.
A. Chemicals often have side effects that are damaging to other
IV. Ecological control seeks to give long-lasting protection by developing control
agents on the basis of knowledge of the pest’s life cycle and of ecological
A. Such agents work in one of two ways: either they are highly specific for
the pest species being fought, or they manipulate one or more aspects
of the ecosystem.
B. Ecological control emphasizes the protection of people and domestic
plants and animals from damage from pests, rather than eradication of
the pest organism.
C. Integrated pest management is an approach to controlling pest
populations by using all suitable methods—chemical and ecological—in
a way that brings about long-term management of pest populations
and also has minimal environmental impact.

16.2 Promises and Problems of the Chemical Approach

Development of Chemical Pesticides and Their Successes
I. The early substances –first generation pesticides--used included toxic heavy
metals. Scientists now recognize that these substances may accumulate
in soils, inhibit plant growth, and poison animals and humans. In addition,
toxic heavy metals lose their effectiveness as pests become increasingly
resistant to them.
A. Second-generation pesticides were based in the science of organic
chemistry. They were developed as a result of synthetic organic
B. DDT is a broad-spectrum pesticide, meaning that it can kill a multitude
of insect pests. It is also persistent, meaning that it does not break
down readily in the environment and hence provided lasting
protection. It has greatly reduced cases of typhus and malaria.
C. After WWII, DDT was sprayed on forests, suburbs, and salt marshes to
control insects. In the short run, many crop yields increased
dramatically. Crops could now be grown in warmer and moister regions
and could be more resistant and productive.
Problems Stemming from Chemical Pesticide Use
I. The most fundamental problem for growers is that chemical pesticides
gradually lose their effectiveness. Over the years, it becomes necessary to
use larger and larger quantities, to try new and more potent pesticides, or
to do both to obtain the same degree of control.
A. Resistance builds up because pesticides destroy the sensitive
individuals of a pest population, leaving behind only those few that
already have some resistance to the pesticide.
B. Resistant insect populations develop rapidly because insects have a
high reproductive capacity. Consequently, repeated pesticide
applications result in the unwitting selection and breeding of genetic
lines that are highly resistant to the chemicals that were designed to
eliminate them.
C. When one pesticide is used extensively, resistance is virtually
inevitable. Over the years of pesticide use, the number of resistant
species has climbed steadily.
D. As a pest population becomes resistant to one pesticide, it also may
gain resistance to other, unrelated pesticides.
II. The second problem with the use of synthetic organic pesticides is that after
a pest has been virtually eliminated with a pesticide, the pest population
not only recovers, but explodes to higher and more severe levels. This
phenomenon is known as resurgence.
A. Small populations of insects that were previously of no concern
because of their low numbers suddenly start to explode, creating new
problems. This phenomenon is known as secondary-pest outbreak. The
species appearing in secondary-pest outbreaks quickly become
resistant to pesticides.
B. The chemical approach fails because it ignores basic ecological
principles. It assumes that the ecosystem is a static entity in which one
species can simply be eliminated. In reality, the ecosystem is a
dynamic system of interactions, and a chemical assault on one species
will inevitably perturb the system and produce other, undesirable
C. The term pesticide treadmill refers to attempts to eradicate pests with
synthetic organic chemicals. In this system, chemicals do not eradicate
the pests; instead, they increase resistance and secondary-pest
outbreaks, which lead to the use of new and larger quantities of
III. Pesticides can be responsible for both acute and chronic health effects.
A. Because of the wide-ranging use of pesticides by most farmers,
consumers are inevitably exposed to pesticide residues on their food.
Also, many occupational exposures to pesticides are subacute. The
public-health concern is that the pesticides might have chronic effects,
even at low levels of exposure.
B. Among the chronic effects of pesticides is the potential for causing
cancer, dermatitis, neurological disorders, birth defects, and infertility.
Tests have shown that a number of pesticides interfere with
reproductive hormones.