Multi-Species Interactions in Weed Biocontrol: Carduus nutans as a Case Study
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Classical biocontrol systems are sometimes treated as an exercise in community assembly. As such, they include multiple species interactions. This thesis explores multi-species aspects in classical weed biocontrol, using thistles as a case study. The abundance, phenology and impact of three biocontrol agents were followed on their target host, Carduus nutans L. and are described, for the first time in New Zealand for two of them (Urophora solstitialis L. and Trichosirocalus horridus sensu (Panzer)). Composition in New Zealand of the recently revised Trichosirocalus weevil species complex was surveyed nation-wide. One species only was found, albeit exhibiting a wider host range than anticipated from the published revision. Interspecific interactions and individual and combined effect of multiple biocontrol agents on C. nutans were tested in cage setups; the effect on the weed population was then estimated by manipulations of an existing matrix population model for this weed in New Zealand. The potentially better seed predator (U. solstitialis) was outcompeted by the worse seed predator (Rhinocyllus conicus (Froehlich)) which has similar niche preference. Urophora solstitialis was also adversely impacted by the crown-root feeder (T. horridus). Trichosirocalus horridus affected C. nutans survival, even at the medium density used, and significantly reduced potential seed production by 33%; in field densities, T. horridus is likely to affect C. nutans even more. Urophora solstitialis was estimated to destroy about 28% of the remaining seed in the absence of the other agents, and about 17% in the presence of T. horridus. The estimated combined effect of T. horridus and U. solstitalis on C. nutans population growth rate was greater than the effect of either agent alone. In the face of growing weed invasions, multiple thistle species were used to test ‘multi-targeting’ as a novel approach to target groups of ‘sleeper weeds’. Both in a field experiment and in a field survey, the seed predator R. conicus was found to attack and damage some ‘non-target’ thistle species more in the presence of the target species (C. nutans) than in its absence; however, levels of attack on non-target species were always modest. The ultimate goal of biocontrol is to reduce weed populations. A field survey revealed that current population densities of multiple thistle species in Canterbury are not obviously lower than in the mid 1980s, when only R. conicus was present. This may be because successful biocontrol has reduced the management input required to maintain the same thistle density.