Professor Toby Bruce: Balancing nature to protect harvests from pests | Inaugural Lecture

Professor Toby Bruce will deliver his inaugural lecture about Balancing nature to protect harvests from pests. The lecture will take place in Westminster Theatre at 6:15pm.


Humanity relies on agriculture for survival. Our crop production, however, is threatened by pests that eat the same crops we do. This is an ecological challenge in a simplified environment with monocultures of crops which, unlike wild plants, are artificially selected, impoverished in defences and often vulnerable to attack. The balance of nature is changed by farming and going back to nature would actually mean that farms would run wild! My talk will consider possible ways of preventing pests from wiping out harvests and the science underpinning this. Farmers have become dependent on pesticides for crop protection, but pests are evolving resistance to them at a faster pace than new solutions are becoming available. Consequently, together with concern about the wider effect of pesticides on non-target species, there is an urgent need for new solutions to manage crop pests. Opportunities are provided from improving plant defences and increasing the activity of natural enemies that attack pests for biological control. Success from previous research with orange wheat blossom midge and Push-Pull companion cropping will be presented along with other, more experimental, approaches that require further development. Climate change, spread of invasive pests and growing demand for food from a growing population mean that the threat to harvests from pests is becoming more critical. This area of research has societal value due to its role in food security and environmental management while also allowing us to advance our understanding of interactions between living things and how populations of organisms are regulated.


Image of Professor Toby Bruce Having always been fascinated by nature and the environment, Professor Toby Bruce studiedBiology at University College London. He became interested in the ecological challenge of safeguarding harvests from attack by pests. He completed an MSc in Applied Entomology at Silwood Park, Imperial College London and a PhD in Chemical Ecology at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich. Toby joined Rothamsted Research, an organisation that pioneered using science to benefit agriculture, as a Research Scientist in 2000. His internationally recognised research is on agriculturally important insects, their interactions with their host plants and their natural enemies; seeking novel interventions that could improve pest management.

Toby gained university teaching experience as a visiting lecturer and successfully supervised PhD students and postdocs in outstanding and highly cited research. In 2017, he was recruited by Keele University to build a new research group within our expanding and thriving School of Life Sciences.