Locomotor behaviour promotes stability of the patchy distribution of slugs in arable fields: Tracking the movement of individual Deroceras reticulatum

Emily Forbes, Matthew Back, Andrew Brooks, Natalia Petrovskaya, Sergei Petrovskii, Tom Pope, Keith Walters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
68 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: The distribution of the grey field slug (Deroceras reticulatum Müller) in arable fields is characterised by patches containing higher slug densities dispersed within areas of lower densities. Behavioural responses that lead to the spatial/temporal stability of these patches are poorly understood, thus this study investigated behavioural mechanisms underpinning slug distribution using a new method for long-term tracking of individual slug movement in the field.
RESULTS: A technique for implanting Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags (each with a unique identification code) beneath the body wall of slugs was developed. Laboratory tests indicated no consistent detrimental effect on survival, feeding, egg-laying or locomotor behaviour (velocity, distance travelled). Movement of individual slugs above and below the soil surface was recorded for >5 weeks (in spring and autumn) in winter wheat fields. Most(~80%) foraged within a limited area; and at the end of the observation period were located at a mean distance of 78.7 ±33.7 cm (spring) or 101.9 ±24.1 cm (autumn) from their release point. The maximum detected distance from the release point was 408.8 cm. The remaining slugs (~20%) moved further away and ultimately were lost.
CONCLUSIONS: RFID tagging allowed continuous tracking of individual slugs, even below the soil surface. Localised movement of 80% of tracked slugs over 5-weeks offers a mechanism promoting stable slug patches in arable crops. Rapid dispersal of the remaining slugs facilitates exchange of individuals between patches. Precision targeting of pesticides at such stable slug patches may facilitate reduced usage.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2944-2952
Number of pages9
JournalPest Management Science
Issue number9
Early online date13 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 13 May 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study is part of an AHDB funded project (Project no. 2140009118). We thank the farmers for permission to carry out the work in their crops.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors. Pest Management Science published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Society of Chemical Industry.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • grey field slug
  • patchy distribution
  • in-field tracking
  • RFID tags
  • slug locomotory behaviour
  • slug patch stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Insect Science
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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