Plot size is of practical importance in any integrated pest management (IPM) study that has a field component. Such studies need to be conducted at a scale relevant to species dynamics because their abundance and distribution in plots might vary according to plot size. An adequate plot size is especially important for researchers, technology providers and regulatory agencies in understanding effects of various insect control technologies on non-target arthropods. Plots that are too small might fail to detect potential harmful effects of these technologies due to arthropod movement and redistribution among plots, or from untreated areas and outside sources. The Arizona cotton system is heavily dependent on technologies for arthropod control, thus we conducted a 2-year replicated field experiment to estimate the optimal plot size for non-target arthropod studies in our system. Experimental treatments consisted of three square plot sizes and three insecticides in a full factorial. We established three plot sizes that measured 144 m2, 324 m2 and 576 m2. For insecticide treatments, we established an untreated check, a positive control insecticide with known negative effects on the arthropod community and a selective insecticide. We investigated how plot size impacts the estimation of treatment effects relative to community structure (27 taxa), community diversity, individual abundance, effect sizes, biological control function of arthropod taxa with a wide range of mobility, including Collops spp., Orius tristicolor, Geocoris spp., Misumenops celer, Drapetis nr. divergens and Chrysoperla carnea s.l.. Square 144 m2 plots supported similar results for all parameters compared with larger plots, and are thus sufficiently large to measure insecticidal effects on non-target arthropods in cotton. Our results are applicable to cotton systems with related pests, predators or other fauna with similar dispersal characteristics. Moreover, these results also might be generalizable to other crop systems with similar fauna.
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