- In the first part of this study we monitored the development of biological control
of purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria over a six-year period at Morgan Lake in western
Oregon. In 1992, two beetles, Galerucella pusilla and G. calmariensis (Coleoptera:
Chrysomelidae), were released to control the wetland weed at this test site. Our purpose
was to estimate quantitative performance parameters that might be generally applied in
monitoring biological weed control. Our six performance measures were: 1) biological
control agent establishment, 2) the rate of increase of the agents, 3) the rate of spread of
the agents, 4) the effect of the agents on individual target plants, 5) the effect of the agents
on the population of the target plants, and 6) the indirect impact of the biological control
agents on the local plant community.
The beetles established viable populations that increased during the study with an
intrinsic rate of increase (r), based on the growth rate in damage, estimated at 2.24/year.
Within six years after introduction, the beetles spread to saturate the entire purple
loosestrife habitat (4100 m²) around the lake. The rate of spread, estimated by calculating
a diffusion coefficient (D), was 57.5 m²/year. Adult beetles made seasonal, exploratory
movements up to 30 m away from the host plant stand into surrounding crop fields, which
suggests a disturbance-free buffer should be established in the habitat surrounding the loosestrife stand. By 1997, both flowering success and median stem density (per 0.125 m² plot) of purple loosestrife declined to zero. Mean above-ground biomass decreased to 8.4% of its 1994 level. Biomass of native plant species increased by only 3% between 1996 and 1997. Overall, G. pusilla and G. calmariensis reduced the abundance of the target plant at our site. Our monitoring methods were effective at quantitatively measuring the establishment, increase, spread, and damage of the biological control agent, the subsequent decline of the target plant, and the impact on the local plant community.
The second part of our study used field and greenhouse experiments to assess non-target effects of two introduced biological control organisms (Galerucella pusilla Duftschmid and G. calmariensis L.: Chrysomelidae) on the economically important ornamental plant, crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica L: Lythraceae). Prior host specificity tests performed in the laboratory found that beetles fed, but were unable to complete their life cycle, on this non-target plant. However, there was concern over damage that might occur when the two plant species existed together. This study extended prior tests into a field environment in order to compare the physiological host range revealed in greenhouse tests with the ecological host range revealed in the field.
We assumed, based on prior evidence, that the control agents would not complete development on the non-target plant, and therefore, when the non-target organism was isolated from populations of the target organism the direct effects of the biological control agents would be negligible. When the target and non-target organisms existed together, the magnitude of indirect effect of the target organism on the non-target organism via the control agent was expected to increase with: 1) decreasing distance between the target and non-target organisms, and 2) increasing dispersal capability of the control agents. As
expected from prior studies beetle feeding and oviposition occurred on crape myrtle but the beetles could not complete development on this non-target plant in our greenhouse and field tests. Leaf damage inflicted by the beetle was lower on crape myrtle than on purple loosestrife plants used as controls and extensive defoliation to the non-target plant was limited to within 30 m from the edge of the purple loosestrife stand. Biomass of crape myrtle was significantly reduced near the stand compared with plants that remained relatively untouched at greater distances. Purple loosestrife biomass exhibited a greater reduction with decreasing distance from the source of beetle colonization.
In this thesis we construct and implement strategies for quantitatively assessing success of biological control programs and risk of introduced biological agents to non-target organisms. Through these observations and experiments we hope to increase the predictability and safety of biological control programs.