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Evaluating environmental risks of biological control introductions into Europe

Contract nr: FAIR-CT97-3489
Project nr: 3489
Project type: SC
Starting date: 01/03/1998
Duration: 48 months
Total cost: 1,416,000 EUR
EC Contribution: 935,000 EUR
Scientific Officer: Massimo BURIONI
Research topic: Plant health
Acronym: ERBIC

European agricultural policies demand alternatives for chemical pesticides to reduce risks to human health and the environment. A powerful alternative is the use of natural enemies (predators, parasitoids and pathogens) for the control of pests. Biological control of insects has been successfully applied worldwide for more than 100 years. In biological control, locally occurring or alien natural enemies are used. Until now, introduction of insect natural enemies into Europe is not known to have led to environmental problems, but thorough risk analyses have never been made. Concurrent with the raised interest in biological control, ministries of environment and non-governmental organisations have voiced their concern about the potential risks of release of alien natural enemies. Although it is agreed that biological pest control is a valuable alternative to chemical control, fears exist that these released natural enemies may (1) attack beneficial non-target organisms like pollinators or other natural enemies, and
(2) attack rare or endangered insects, like butterflies.

The specific objectives are:
1) to determine the negative and positive effects of different types of biological pest control for agriculture, the environment and biodiversity in Europe;
2) to develop rapid and reliable methods to assess the potential risk of import and release of biocontrol agents in Europe;
3) to design specific European guidelines to ensure that biocontrol agents which are to be introduced are environmentally safe.

In order to properly evaluate the risks of these introductions, we will evaluate the role of various types of natural enemies in different ecosystems. The effect of alien generalist and specialist predators and parasitoids will be studied on local non-target organisms, particularly on beneficial and endangered species. Also, the effects of microbial natural enemies like fungi and nematodes will be evaluated, especially on beneficial organisms like pollinators. Several biocontrol agents used in Europe are established permanently; their effects on the local fauna in and outside agricultural fields will be studied. With this first large-scale and in-depth analysis of risks related to biological control, future policies can be designed on sustainable pest control. Further, the importance of biodiversity for harvesting the right biocontrol agents can be scientifically epitomised. In addition, a quick and reliable method for risk assessment of biocontrol agents will become available.

Current situation/results:
First results from the four case studies and modelling are available on the project website. Existing information on non-target effects of biological control has been reviewed, presented at a large international conference (Montpellier, October 1999), and is printed as a chapter in a forthcoming book. The case studies indicate very modest, if any, non-target impacts in the systems under study, but point out methods and ways to assess such impacts in other studies.


University of Helsinki
Department of Applied Zoology
P.O. Box 27
FIN-00014 Helsinki
Tel.: +358 9 70 85 83 71
Fax: +358 9 70 85 84 63


  • David DENT
    CAB International
    Silwood Park, Buckhurst Road
    UK-SL5 7TA Ascot
    Tel.: +44 1344 87 29 99
    Fax: +44 1344 87 50 07

  • Franz BIGLER
    Swiss Federal Research Station for Agroecology and Agriculture
    Reckenholzstr. 191
    CH-8046 Zurich
    Tel.: +41 1 377 72 35
    Fax: +41 1 377 72 01

  • Johan Coert VAN LENTEREN
    Wageningen University
    Laboratory of Entomology
    P.O.Box 8031
    NL-6700 EH Wageningen
    Tel.: +31 317 48 23 27
    Fax: +31 317 48 48 21
    E-mail: joop van

  • Stefano MAINI
    Universita degli Studi di Bologna
    Via Zamboni 33
    I-40126 Bologna
    Tel.: +39 051 35 15 65
    Fax: +39 051 25 10 52
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