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Assessing the role of generalist predators in the biological control of alfalfa weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae)

Rand, Tatyana A.
The Canadian Entomologist 2017 v.149 no.4 pp. 525-533
Acyrthosiphon pisum, Araneae, Coccinellidae, Hypera postica, Nabidae, alfalfa, biological control, correlation, defoliation, insect control, larvae, parasitoids, plant pests, predators, surveys, Montana, North Dakota
Alfalfa weevil (Coleoptera:Curculionidae) is a major pest of alfalfa throughout the United States of America. Biological control research has disproportionately focussed on introduced parasitoids. Generalist predators may also be important, but experimental work evaluating their impacts is lacking. I combined a cross-site survey with a predator exclusion experiment to identify key predators, and test for impacts on weevil survival and plant defoliation levels in Montana and North Dakota, United States of America. Spiders (Araneae) dominated the complex, followed by Nabidae (Hemiptera) and Coccinellidae (Coleoptera). None of the dominant predators showed aggregative responses to weevil (Hypera postica (Gyllenhal); Coleoptera: Curculionidae) or pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum (Harris); Hemiptera: Aphididae) densities across 10 sites surveyed. However, weevil densities were positively correlated with both coccinellid and nabid densities across transects at the experimental site. Thus, predator groups traditionally associated with aphids can show strong aggregative numerical responses to alfalfa weevil larvae at smaller scales. Predator exclusion revealed no significant predator effects on larval survival or alfalfa damage. However, final densities of pea aphids were significantly higher in exclusion treatments relative to controls. The results suggest that even under conditions where predators exert significant pressure on aphids, they may still have minimal impacts on weevils. Additional experimental work is necessary to determine the broader potential of generalist predators as alfalfa weevil control agents.