Strong effects of hydrologic environment and weak effects of elevated CO2 on the invasive weed Alternanthera philoxeroides and the biocontrol beetle Agasicles hygrophila
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Global change, such as elevated CO2, may alter interactions between invasive plants and biocontrol agents, impacting biocontrol efficacy. Here, we conducted four experiments in Texas, USA to test how elevated CO2 influences an invasive plant (Alternanthera philoxeroides) and its interactions with an introduced biocontrol beetle (Agasicles hygrophila) in terrestrial (well-watered) and flooded environments. We grew plants for 9 months in ambient or elevated CO2 (800 ppm) chambers in continuously flooded or well-watered conditions. In no-choice trials, flooding increased leaf toughness and decreased beetle consumption but beetles only oviposited on ambient CO2 leaves. In choice trials, beetles preferred to feed and oviposit on terrestrial plants but were also less likely to damage elevated CO2 leaves. Caged beetle populations were larger in terrestrial conditions than aquatic conditions for a second set of plants grown in the chambers. With a third set of plants grown in the ambient or elevated CO2 chambers, damage for plants placed in the field (aquatic setting) was higher for plants grown in terrestrial conditions vs. flooded conditions at ambient CO2. Our results suggest that elevated CO2 will have minor effects on the efficacy of this biocontrol agent by decreasing oviposition and number of leaves damaged, and hydrologic environment may affect invasive plant performance by altering herbivore oviposition and feeding preferences. A broader understanding of the effects of global change on biocontrol will help prevent and manage future spread of invasive plants.
KeywordsAlligator weed Alligator weed flea beetle Biocontrol Carbon dioxide Climate change
We would like to thank Stephen Truch, Kate Snyder, and Hong Wang for their help in field and lab work and financial support from NSF-China (NSF-C 31370547 & 31570540) and a Spurlino Fellowship.
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