, Volume 56, Issue 1, pp 43-55
Date: 20 Oct 2011

Laboratory and field experimental evaluation of host plant specificity of Aceria solstitialis, a prospective biological control agent of yellow starthistle

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Centaurea solstitialis (yellow starthistle, Asteraceae) is an invasive annual weed in the western USA that is native to the Mediterranean Region and is a target for classical biological control. Aceria solstitialis is an eriophyid mite that has been found exclusively in association with Ce. solstitialis in Italy, Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria. The mite feeds on leaf tissue and damages bolting plants, causing stunting, witch’s broom and incomplete flower development. Field experiments and laboratory no-choice and two-way choice experiments were conducted to assess host plant specificity of the mite in Bulgaria. Mites showed the highest degree of host specificity in the field and lowest in the no-choice experiments. In the field, highest densities of mites occurred on Ce. solstitialis and Ce. cyanus (bachelor’s button), and either no mites or trace numbers occurred on the other test plants: Ce. diffusa (diffuse knapweed), Carthamus tinctorius (safflower) and Cynara scolymus (artichoke). In no-choice experiments, mites persisted for 60 days on Ce. diffusa, Ce. cyanus, Ce. solstitialis, Ca. tinctorius and Cy. scolymus, whereas in two-way choice experiments mites persisted on 25% of Cy. scolymus plants for 60 days and did not persist on Ca. tinctorius beyond 40 days. The eight other species of plants that were tested in the laboratory were less suitable for the mite. These results suggest that although A. solstitialis can persist on some nontarget plants for as long as 60 days in the laboratory, it appears to be much more specific under natural conditions, and warrants further evaluation as a prospective biological control agent.