Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Food Systems

First Advisor

Yolanda H. Chen


Monoculture agriculture has developed as a result of the Western agricultural growth model, which emphasizes reduced on-farm labor and maximum yield. As a result soil health, which is reliant on a diversity of soil-dwelling organisms, is compromised, pest problems are intensified, and biodiversity is lost when vast land areas are devoted to simplified vegetation schemes. There has been a tremendous rise in interest in alternative cropping schemes. The traditional practice of intercropping has received renewed interest as the emphasis on agricultural growth shifts from a purely development-based model to one of conservation and enhanced biodiversity.

Although intercropping has shown promising results in controlling specialist herbivorous insects, how intercropping works is not known. Theories that explain the underlying mechanism of intercropping success include chemical repellency and physical masking. We tested these two theories by creating a simulated intercropping system in mesocosm cages in a laboratory environment. We tested twenty intercrops that varied in their vegetation type, size, and phylogenetic distance for their ability to repel an insect pest that recently invaded into North America, the swede midge (Contarinia nasturtii), from its host plant, Brassica oleracea. We found that different non-host plant treatments significantly influenced larval abundance, which indicates that C. nasturtii responded to some aspect of the varying plant combinations. We found that phylogenetic distance did not influence larval densities. Additionally, non-host plant height and leaf area of non-host plants did not influence larval densities. We found that vegetation type significantly affected larval densities. Brassica oleracea planted in combination with groundcover non-host plants had the fewest number of larvae, followed by B. oleracea planted in combination with vegetables. The highest number of larvae was found on B. oleracea plants planted in combination with herb non-host plants. Our research did not support a chemical repellency or visual masking theory of intercrop success.



Number of Pages

69 p.