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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Fort Lauderdale, Florida » Invasive Plant Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #379021

Research Project: Identification, Evaluation, and Implementation of Biological Control Agents for Invasive Weeds of Southeastern Ecosystems

Location: Invasive Plant Research Laboratory

Title: Using molecular gut content analysis to identify key predators in a classical weed biological control system: a study with Neomusotima conspurcatalis (Lepidoptera: Crambidae)

Author
item JONES, IAN - University Of Toronto
item Madeira, Paul
item BLAIR, ZIZAH - Former ARS Employee
item Lake, Ellen

Submitted to: Biocontrol
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/29/2021
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Native predators have long been blamed for the failure of classical biological control programs. However, it is very difficult to identify the predators responsible and quantify their impact, especially if the biological control agent has not established widely or is difficult to find. We used molecular gut content analysis to identify predators feeding on Neomusotima conspurcatalis Warren (Lepidoptera: Crambidae), a biological control agent for Lygodium microphyllum (Cavanilles) R Brown (Lygodiaceae), Old World climbing fern, in Florida. We developed DNA primers specific to N. conspurcatalis, and conducted laboratory feeding trials with N. conspurcatalis caterpillars to confirm that agent DNA could be detected in predator guts through polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification. We then released N. conspurcatalis caterpillars at three Old World climbing fern infested sites. One week later we conducted field surveys for predators. Our experimental field survey indicated that predatory arthropods were attracted to the immediate locations of N. conspurcatalis releases. A total of 351 predatory arthropods were collected from Old World climbing fern infested sites, representing a broad taxonomic range. At least 33% of individuals from all 13 taxonomic groups analyzed had fed on N. conspurcatalis. Of the four predator functional groups collected, spiders were the most numerous, and appeared to be the most important group based on predation rate. Our results can inform the N. conspurcatalis release program, providing guidance on avoiding generating predation hotspots, and facilitating predictions about where and when N. conspurcatalis releases are most likely to result in establishment. Additionally, we highlight the potential of molecular gut content analysis to improve our understanding of the effects of predators on newly introduced classical biological control agents.

Technical Abstract: Native predators have long been implicated in the failure of classical biological control programs. Identifying key predators and quantifying their impacts, however, has often proved difficult, especially in cases where the biological control agent has low establishment or detectability. We used molecular gut content analysis to identify predators feeding on Neomusotima conspurcatalis Warren (Lepidoptera: Crambidae), a biological control agent for Lygodium microphyllum (Cavanilles) R Brown (Lygodiaceae) in Florida. We developed DNA primers specific to N. conspurcatalis, and conducted laboratory feeding trials to confirm that agent DNA could be detected in predator guts through PCR amplification. We then released N. conspurcatalis at three L. microphyllum infested sites and one week later conducted field surveys for predators. Our experimental field survey indicated that predatory arthropods were attracted to the immediate locations of N. conspurcatalis releases. A total of 351 predatory arthropods were collected from L. microphyllum infested sites, representing a broad taxonomic range. At least 33% of individuals from all 13 taxa analyzed had fed on N. conspurcatalis. Of the four predator functional groups encountered, spiders were the most numerous, and appeared to be the most important group based on predation rate. Our results can inform the N. conspurcatalis release program, providing guidance on avoiding generating predation hotspots, and facilitating predictions about where and when N. conspurcatalis releases are most likely to result in establishment. Additionally, we highlight the potential of molecular gut content analysis to improve our understanding of the effects of predators on newly introduced classical biological control agents.