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air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera)
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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. 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.

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Dioscorea bulbifera trellising over native palms, pines, hardwoods, and understory vegetation in Snyder Park, Broward County, Florida, during June 2012. (Photo: T. Center, U.S. Dept. Agriculture)

Biological control agent Lilioceris egena has been permitted for use in the U.S. by USDA, APHIS and is being reared outside of quarantine for release.



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Adult Lilioceris egena (Weise) on air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera L.) bulbil (aerial tuber) [Photo: F.A. Dray Jr.].

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Lilioceris egena larvae infesting a D. bulbifera bulbil (a) and resulting damage (b). [Photos: F.A. Dray Jr.]