University of California

The effects of disease on insect populations


Edward A. Steinhaus

Author Affiliations

Edward A. Steinhaus was Professor of Insect Pathology and Insect Pathologist in the Experiment Station.

Publication Information

Hilgardia 23(9):197-261. DOI:10.3733/hilg.v23n09p197. December 1954.

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Most papers and treatises dealing with the dynamics and natural control of insect populations treat only superficially, if at all, with the effects of infectious disease on such populations. In the literature on the biotic factors known to influence insect populations, the phrase “parasites, predators, and disease” is a common one, but the attending discussions are usually concerned with the parasites and predators while the effects of disease are usually ignored or treated lightly. This neglect is not necessarily the fault of the particular author or investigator concerned since, in truth, he has available to him very little information on which he can rely or from which he can draw definitive conclusions. With few exceptions, hard, cold facts and profound basic knowledge concerning the role of disease in the ecology of insect life are lacking. Nevertheless, even in the absence of the desired large body of well-grounded facts, it might be profitable to examine the areas in which we do possess creditable knowledge, that we may better orient our thinking in preparation for a concentrated attack on the problems involved. The present paper therefore is offered with the hope that it may constitute at least a hesitating step in the direction of a fuller appreciation of the important role of microbial pathogens of insects in the population dynamics and general ecology of insects.

Although the fact that insects are susceptible to disease was known and recorded before the Christian era, the reducing and regulatory effect of diseases on insect populations was not significantly noted until the last half of the nineteenth century. During this period, the isolated observations on entomogenous fungi and the classical work of (Pasteur (1870))3 on the diseases of the silkworm set the stage for an increasing awareness that insects of many kinds were subject to attack by disease. (LeConte (1874)), (Metehnikoff (1879)), (Prentiss (1880), (Krassilstschik (1886); (1888), and (Brongniart (1888)) in Europe, and (Hagen (1879)), (Snow (1890)), and (Forbes (1895,a), (b), (c); (1896) in the United States were among those who, before the turn of the

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