Large populations of natural enemies are the basis for natural pest control. Effects of mulch on predator-prey interactions in arable fields are poorly known, despite its potential to enhance ground-dwelling predators and thereby reduce pest infestations. We studied the densities of predators and parasitoids, and their impact on cereal aphids in the presence and absence of mulch. Released populations of the bird cherry aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi (L.) (Homoptera: Aphididae), and two naturally occurring aphid species, were monitored under experimentally reduced densities of: (i) ground-dwelling predators, (ii) flying predators and parasitoids, and (iii) with straw mulch. The three treatments were applied in a 2 x 2 x 2 factorial design in a field of spring wheat (Triticum aestivum L.). The exclusion of ground-dwelling predators increased aphid populations by 55% in June and 40% in July, respectively. Mulched plots had 25% lower aphid densities in June. This was presumably due to enhanced densities of spiders (Araneida) in mulched plots. The exclusion of flying predators and parasitoids led to 94% higher aphid populations in late July (109 vs. 56 individuals per 100 shoots), irrespective of mulch or ground predator manipulation. This was attributed to the larvae of gall midges Aphidoletes cf. aphidimyza (Rondani) (Diptera: Cecidomyiidae) and hoverflies (Diptera: Syrphidae). The results indicate that a scarcity of predators and a bare soil surface renders crops more susceptible to arthropod pests. Farming schemes should aim at enhancing both ground-dwelling and flying predators for elevated levels of natural pest control.
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