Characterising insect plant host relationships facilitates understanding multiple host use


Weed biocontrol relies on host specificity testing, usually carried out under quarantine conditions to predict the future host range of candidate control agents. The predictive power of host testing can be scrutinised directly with Aconophora compressa, previously released against the weed Lantana camara L. (lantana) because its ecology in its new range (Australia) is known and includes the unanticipated use of several host species. Glasshouse based predictions of field host use from experiments designed a posteriori can therefore be compared against known field host use. Adult survival, reproductive output and egg maturation were quantified. Adult survival did not differ statistically across the four verbenaceous hosts used in Australia. Oviposition was significantly highest on fiddlewood (Citharexylum spinosum L.), followed by lantana, on which oviposition was significantly higher than on two varieties of Duranta erecta (“geisha girl” and “Sheena’s gold”; all Verbenaceae). Oviposition rates across Duranta varieties were not significantly different from each other but were significantly higher than on the two non-verbenaceous hosts (Jacaranda mimosifolia D. Don: Bignoneaceae (jacaranda) and Myoporum acuminatum R. Br.: Myoporaceae (Myoporum)). Production of adult A. compressa was modelled across the hosts tested. The only major discrepancy between model output and their relative abundance across hosts in the field was that densities on lantana in the field were much lower than predicted by the model. The adults may, therefore, not locate lantana under field conditions and/or adults may find lantana but leave after laying relatively few eggs. Fiddlewood is the only primary host plant of A. compressa in Australia, whereas lantana and the others are used secondarily or incidentally. The distinction between primary, secondary and incidental hosts of a herbivore species helps to predict the intensity and regularity of host use by that herbivore. Populations of the primary host plants of a released biological control agent are most likely to be consistently impacted by the herbivore, whereas secondary and incidental host plant species are unlikely to be impacted consistently. As a consequence, potential biocontrol agents should be released only against hosts to which they have been shown to be primarily adapted.

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Thanks to Alan Fletcher Research Station for glasshouse space to conduct these experiments and Wallum Nurseries Pty Ltd for providing plants that were otherwise unavailable. Thanks to Jayd McCarthy, Noel Wakerley, Patrick Rogers, John Adler and Gio Fichera for providing assistance over the course of experiments. Thanks to Raghu, Walter Carson, Rieks van Klinken, Rachel McFadyen and Dane Panetta who provided helpful comments on previous drafts of this paper. This research was funded by a PhD scholarship from the CRC for Australian Weed Management.

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Correspondence to Andrew G. Manners.

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Handling Editor: Walter Carson.

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Manners, A.G., Palmer, W.A., Dhileepan, K. et al. Characterising insect plant host relationships facilitates understanding multiple host use. Arthropod-Plant Interactions 4, 7–17 (2010).

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  • Biological control
  • Fiddlewood
  • Host plant finding
  • Host specificity testing
  • Lantana
  • Non-target effects
  • Polyphagy
  • Primary host plant
  • Secondary host plant