Modelling predator searching in plant canopies

Modelling predator searching in plant canopies
Dave Skirvin & Andrew Mead, Warwick HRI
Research objectives
The overall aim of this project is to determine how plant canopy structure interacts
with the searching behaviour of predators to determine their efficiency as biological
control agents of pests.
Background information
Due to increased pressure for the reduction of insecticides, there is an increasing
reliance on the use of predators to control pests in commercial crops. The majority of
biological control takes place within plant canopies, with predators actively searching
the canopy to locate prey. The efficiency of a given predator will therefore be
determined partially by the number and spatial arrangement of connections between
plants in the canopy. Predators have a wide range of different searching strategies,
and the rate at which prey are located will depend on the interaction of each particular
strategy with canopy structure.
By understanding this interaction between predator searching and canopy structure it
should ultimately be possible to develop more effective strategies for the use of
predators as biological control agents, adapted according to the plant canopy
This mini-project will use a simulation modelling approach to examine how canopy
structure and predator searching behaviour interact to determine the efficiency of the
location of prey by different predators.
Within the mini-project the aim would be to examine one (or more) of the following
 The impact of the number of connections between plants in a canopy on the
speed with which predators are able to locate prey
 The effect of different searching strategies used by predators to locate prey on
the time taken to locate prey
 Examination of the best strategy for release of predators when searching for
multiple prey items within a canopy
Other factors to be considered could include the prey density and movement, predator
type and numbers, interactions between different predator types, and canopy size and
Prospective deliverables
Depending on which of the topics above were chosen, the mini-project would deliver
predictions regarding how canopy structure and predator searching strategies interact,
summarised in terms of time to prey location. The mini-project would also deliver
algorithms for the simulation of predator searching behaviour
Techniques required
Ability to program in a high level computing language (Fortran, C, C++ or Java)
Ability to design and analyse simulation experiments
Prospects for leading to a PhD project
This mini-project would form the preliminary work to a PhD project examining the
interplay between canopy structure and predator searching.