The population dynamics of an introduced tree, Sesbania punicea, in South Africa, in response to long-term damage caused by different combinations of three species of biological control agents
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This paper contributes to the relatively sparse literature on the effects of insect herbivory on the population dynamics of plants and is probably unique in that it reports the long-term effects of combinations of three insect herbivore species on the population densities of a moderately long-lived tree species. The tree is Sesbania punicea, a leguminous perennial from South America that has been the target of a biological control programme in South Africa for almost 20 years. Sixteen infestations of the weed have been monitored for periods of up to 10 years to determine changes in the density of the mature, reproductive plants under the influence of different combinations of three biological control agents (i.e. with one, two or three of the agent species present in the weed infestation). The three biological control agents, all weevil species, include Trichapion lativentre, which primarily destroys the flower-buds, Rhyssomatus marginatus, which destroys the developing seeds, and Neodiplogrammus quadrivittatus, whose larvae bore into the trunk and stems of the plants. While T. lativentre occurs throughout the range of the weed in South Africa, the other two species are less mobile, more recent introductions and are largely confined to the vicinity of selected release sites. There has been a significant decline in the density of mature S. punicea in areas where two or more of the agents are established. The decline of the weed has been most evident where N. quadrivittatus is active and particularly so where both of the other two weevil species are also present.
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