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Larval parasitism by native insects on the introduced stem-galling moth Epiblema strenuana Walker (Lepidoptera: Tortricidae) and its implications for biological control of Parthenium hysterophorus (Asteraceae)

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The significance of natural enemies in the failure or reduced effectiveness of weed biological control agents remains largely unknown. Larval and pupal parasitism by native insects in the stem-galling moth Epiblema strenuana was studied in north Queensland, 4 (1986–87) and 16 (1998–99) years after its introduction as a biological-control agent for Parthenium hysterophorus. Specific questions answered in this study are: (i) Has parasitism increased over the years?; (ii) Are the levels of parasitism influenced by the host plant phenology?; and (iii) What are the potential implications of current parasitism levels for the effectiveness of E. strenuana? There was no increase in the parasitoid species assemblage over the years. In 1986–87, Antrocephalus sp. and Bracon sp. were the most predominant species. The combined larval and pupal parasitism was low (2.6%) and there was no seasonal difference in the parasitism levels. In 1998–99 Bracon sp. was the most prevalent species. Parasitism by Bracon sp. in 1998–99 was several times higher (22.9%) than the combined larval and pupal parasitism in 1986–87. However, parasitism by Bracon sp. remained low (6.5–8.2%) at the beginning of the parthenium-growing season, and reached peak levels (49–53%) only at the end of the season. Parasitism by Bracon sp. was also significantly lower in rosettes (7.2%) than in flowering plants (22.8%). Galling can have a negative impact on the weed only when initiated at the rosette stage. In 1998–99 lower levels of parasitism early in the season when most plants are in the rosette stage suggest that the impact of parasitism on the effectiveness of the gall insect may not be significant.
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Keywords: Epiblema strenuana; Parthenium hysterophorus; native parasitoids; plant phenology; weed biological control

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Tropical Weeds Research Centre, Department of Natural Resources and Mines, Charters Towers, Qld 4820, Australia. 2: CRC for Australian Weed Management, 80 Meiers Road, Indooroopilly, Qld 4068, Australia.

Publication date: February 1, 2005

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