Dr Alice Mockford, whose PhD looked at using insects as a natural means to regulate pests in Spanish orange orchards, graduated in 2022.
Her work focused on ways to harness the services provided by certain insects to protect oranges. Now she is doing further research work in Germany.
“We must change current food production methods and our consumer habits if we are to alleviate the pressure we are putting on our planet's ecosystems,” said Alice. “I am pleased that my research has contributed, even if just a little, to supporting biodiversity and sustainable food production.”
As part of a studentship funded by the University, Waitrose & Partners and Primafruit Ltd, Alice spent time at Instituto Valenciano de Investigaciones Agrarias, Spain. Over three years, she conducted field trials, investigating the use of wildflower strips and their management to support sustainable orange production. She sowed alleyways between the rows of orange trees with a variety of native wildflowers, designed to provide vital resources for beneficial insects (called natural enemies). By helping these insects to survive, the aim was to increase therefore the natural pest regulations service they provide, protecting against the likes of the California Red Scale.
Alice’s study found that wildflower strips left uncut increased the abundance of important natural enemies, such as ladybirds. This translated to greater potential to sustainably protect the crops from pests at key times in the year. But Alice found that additional cutting of the wildflower strips was disadvantageous to natural enemies. She thinks this was likely because plants could not recover from the cutting.
Alice has recently published the first research article based on her PhD in the journal Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment. She has also presented her work at several international conferences, including the European Congress of Entomology in Naples, Italy, in 2018 and the International Congress of Entomology in Helsinki, Finland, this year. She has received two prizes for her research, at the Waitrose Science Day (2019) and at the IOBC meeting for Integrated Control in Citrus Crops (2022). She said: “During my time at Worcester and with the support of my Director of Studies, Dr Duncan Westbury, and my supervisory team I have developed professionally and grown in confidence as a researcher.”
In the summer, Alice joined the department of Landscape Ecology at the University of Kiel, in Germany, as a postgraduate. There she will be developing her research interests and lecturing students.