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Host specificity and risk assessment of Archanara geminipuncta and Archanara neurica, two potential biocontrol agents for invasive Phragmites australis in North America

Blossey, Bernd, Häfliger, Patrick, Tewksbury, Lisa, Dávalos, Andrea, Casagrande, Richard
Biological control 2018 v.125 pp. 98-112
Noctuidae, North Americans, Phragmites australis, biological control, biological control agents, cages, climate, demography, eggs, host specificity, larvae, mining, mortality, moths, oviposition, wetlands, Europe, Gulf of Mexico, Southeastern United States
Invasive Phragmites australis is widespread in North America and despite decades of management and large annual expenditures (>5 million US$) using physical and chemical means, local populations and the species range are expanding. Allowing continued expansion does not only threaten native wetland biota but also an endemic North American subspecies Phragmites australis americanus. We used extensive multi-pronged investigations in Europe and North America to evaluate host specificity and impact of two European stem mining noctuid moths, Archanara geminipuncta and A. neurica. Both moth species are specific to the genus Phragmites and both show a very strong, but not absolute, preference for invasive P. australis over endemic P. australis americanus. No-choice tests or tests in small cages provided inconsistent results, but both moths showed consistently high preferences for introduced P. australis. Open field multiple-choice oviposition tests affirmed this; moths laid 6.5% of their eggs on native P. australis americanus. The native subspecies is further safeguarded by increased mortality of eggs and larvae when laid on, or developing in P. australis americanus. Phragmites populations in the southern US, particularly along the Gulf of Mexico, occur outside the climate range of these two temperate moth species. We consider potential threats to P. australis americanus demography due to A. geminipuncta and A. neurica attack to be far smaller than allowing expansion of invasive P. australis to continue. We therefore recommend release of these two biocontrol agents in North America.