|Air Potato (Dioscorea bulbifera) (2)|
An air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera) infested research site in Alachua County, FL shows the vegetation smothering effects of air potato
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Dioscorea bulbifera L. (air potato) is a common weed of natural areas in Florida that displaces native vegetation, alters plant community structure, and impedes the ecological functions of affected habitats. A biological control program that was initiated against this weed in 2004 resulted in the release in 2011 of Lilioceris cheni Gressitt and Kimoto. See picture below.
Lilioceris cheni adult on air potato released in 2011
Lilioceris cheni larvae feeding on air potato leaf
Although L. cheni is already slowing growth and reducing air potato’s dominance in invaded plant communities, production of vegetative propagules (i.e., bulbils) continues. Vegetative propagation is the primary means by which this vine expands its geographic range, so damage to bulbils would greatly contribute to success of the biological control program against this weed. A congener to L. cheni, Lilioceris egena Weise, appears to be a specialist on air potato bulbils and would, through damage to these vegetative propagules, greatly contribute to a reduction in numbers of air potato plants and thereby foster the recovery of native plant communities. After years of testing at the USDA Invasive Plant Research lab in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida Lilioceris egena was approved by USDA/APHIS and released in March 2021. IPRL is currently doing field releases in natural areas for biological control effectiveness and temperature hardiness.
Adult Lilioceris egena (Weise) on air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera L.) bulbil (aerial tuber)
[Photo: F.A. Dray Jr.].
Lilioceris egena larvae infesting a D. bulbifera bulbil (a)
and resulting damage (b). [Photos: F.A. Dray Jr.]