Quantifying the effects of distance and conspecifics on colonization: experiments and models using the loosestrife leaf beetle, Galerucella calmariensis
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The ability of an insect to disperse to new habitat patches is difficult to quantify, but key to the establishment and persistence of populations. In this study, we examined dispersal of the phytophagous chrysomelid beetle, Galerucella calmariensis, which is currently being introduced into North America for the biological control of purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), an aggressive wetland weed. We used a mark, release, and recapture approach to determine how rates of colonization of host patches by this beetle are influenced by the distance of the patch from the source of dispersers, and by the presence of conspecifics at the patch. We released color-coded beetles at six distances from a long, linear patch of purple loosestrife that was divided into segments with and without conspecifics. We observed initial flight directions as beetles left the release points and collected all beetles that settled at the target patch. We found a bias in initial flight toward the target for distances up to 50 m. Over the 7 days of the experiment, beetles arrived at the target from all release points, including the farthest release point, 847 m away. G. calmariensis was strongly attracted to conspecifics when settling after dispersal; 86% of the 582 recovered beetles came from the segments inhabited by conspecifics. The probability of an individual arriving at the patch declined steeply with release distance. This relationship fits a model in which beetles move in a random direction and stop if they intercept the target patch, and where beetles are lost at a constant rate with distance travelled. The dispersal and patch-colonizing behavior of G. calmariensis is likely to have important consequences for the biological control program against purple loosestrife.
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