Polytechnic Institute
of Bragança



CIMO - Mountain Research Center. See video HERE


Increasing functional biodiversity in olive groves to enhance conservation biological control of insect pests

Project Type
Nac / Pub
Financial Program
PTDC - Projectos em todos os domínios científicos
Funding Value
Principal Investigator
Sónia Alexandra Paiva Santos

Olive growing is a significant land use in southern Member States of the EU with important environmental, social and economic implications. During the last years, high market pressures as well as the implementation of specific agricultural measures are encouraging olive growers to intensify production, while marginalizing low-input systems. These processes are conducting to the degradation of natural resources and the loss of biodiversity and landscape values. Notwithstanding, because of the nature of the olive tree and due to its social and economic position, olive growing, more than any other Mediterranean crop could be a model for sustainable land-use in the Mediterranean region, producing highly-valued foodstuffs and environmental benefits, while helping to maintain populations in marginal areas. Olive production is therefore a good model for improving the relationships between agriculture and environment, a type of modeling that is receiving considerable attention in Europe, where it is referred to as the ‘European Model of Agriculture’ (i.e. positive sustainable environmental attributes in combination with effective agricultural production). One approach to achieve farm sustainability is to utilize nature´s services on farmland to increase productivity by replacing some major external inputs such as pesticides, with alternatives e.g. conservation biological control. While the classical type of biological control was based on passive protection of existing antagonists by adequate plant protection programs and/or active release of commercially available antagonists, conservation biological control involves habitat manipulation to maximize the impact of natural enemies. As an agro-ecosystem with high ecological potential, olive cultivation is a very promising candidate for implementing this strategy. The focus of these habitat manipulations being investigated will be to evaluate native plant species that can provide essential food sources (e. g. nectar, pollen, honeydew, alternate host/prey), to natural enemies, thus enhancing their survival, fecundity, longevity and behavior, to increase their effectiveness. While by implementing the project it is mainly expected to maximize this specific service, as native plants to the country are to be used, it can actually provide benefits in terms of wildlife conservation and of biodiversity and landscape values. If subsets of native plants prove effective at enhancing natural enemies, farmers may have an economic reason for preserving and restoring remnant habitats or for re-creating similar communities on their farms. Likewise, organizations involved in natural areas restoration may gain better cooperation from adjacent landowners if the natural communities they are conserving have been shown to have benefits for important natural enemies. Potentially the results could also lead to improved viability of olive farms in marginal rural areas, mainly if included into organic olive production, as demand for organically grown olive products is rising and consumers are willing to pay higher prices for olive oil of superior quality. Better marketing of olive oil might in this way constitute an important driver for improved natural resources management. It is too anticipated that the dissemination of the results to olive growers, conservation organizations, native plant producers and to the society in general, will aid in implementation of these practices in the future. 1st National Meeting on Organic Olive Growing held in 2007 under de coordination of the IR (Investigator Responsible) for the present proposal, drew about three hundred individuals including significant numbers of non-agricultural clientele, suggesting its attractiveness to the Portuguese public. Field studies of habitat management to enhance biocontrol of pests have only about a 20-year history. Also relatively few plants have been evaluated for this purpose and of those, almost all were not native to the area of study, while the benefits of using native plants are recently being recognized. To our knowledge there is no a comprehensive study about conservation biological control on the olive grove ecosystem in spite of its high ecological potential. Studying habitat management in this ecosystem according to the standards of ecological engineering for pest management, offers scope to reach real progresses in this growing field of research.

Project Team

Project Partners