Researcher Calls For More Careful Use Of Biological Controls

August 21, 1997

Using introduced plants or animals to attack undesirable species, though a valuable tool for agriculture and conservation, can cause widespread damage to native organisms. Too little attention is paid to that potential "dark side" when biological-control projects are approved in the United States, says an authority on plant-insect interactions at the University of California, Davis.

Donald R. Strong, a highly respected UC Davis professor of evolution and ecology, examines new evidence of "biocontrol gone haywire" in the Aug. 22 issue of the journal Science.

Strong reviews a report in the same issue from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, that a Eurasian weevil widely released in the United States and Canada has sometimes reduced its target population -- non-native thistle plants that overrun livestock grazing areas -- but also turned its appetite to five native thistle species.

Some of the native plants' seed production has been cut by 86 percent, dramatically hurting the plant's ability to reproduce. The weevil also appears to be pushing aside native picture-wing flies, which normally feed on the native thistles' flower heads.

And the weevil's distribution has expanded substantially, both naturally and through introductions that continue today. Since it was first released in 1968, the Eurasian weevil has been found in 24 states from California to New Jersey, and every Canadian province except Alberta.

Strong writes that the collateral attacks should come as no surprise: They have occurred in similar biocontrol projects, and there was evidence before the weevil releases began that the Eurasian bugs would like North American cuisine.

Carefully planned biological control, Strong writes, can provide great economic benefit, reduce the use of chemical pesticides, and even protect native species against non-native predators or competitors. However, he said in an interview, too few biocontrol projects get the requisite care.

"This is a huge policy issue for the United States," Strong said. "There's tremendous pressure from the agriculture industry -- and the industries that supply agricultural biological controls -- to find new agents, release them, and then go find more, without adequate study of their effects.

"It is important for us to start a broad public discussion about the conservation and environmental issues surrounding biological control."

In the Science article, Strong says it's essential to establish experimentally that the proposed control agent has an extremely limited "host range" -- that its food preferences will keep it focused on its intended target, not native species.

"Biological control is an important arrow in the quiver of pest management, perhaps the only arrow in some cases of pests of grave concern," Strong writes in conclusion. "However, willy-nilly biological control without regard for environmental costs" can clearly have serious consequences.

Media contacts:
-- Donald R. Strong, UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, (707) 875-2211, drstrong@ucdavis.edu.
-- Sylvia Wright, News Service, (916) 752-7704, swright@ucdavis.edu.

Additional source:
-- Mary Louise Flint, director of integrated pest management education and publications, UC Davis, (916) 752-7692, mlflint@ucdavis.edu.

University of California - Davis

Related Conservation Articles from Brightsurf:

New guide on using drones for conservation
Drones are a powerful tool for conservation - but they should only be used after careful consideration and planning, according to a new report.

Elephant genetics guide conservation
A large-scale study of African elephant genetics in Tanzania reveals the history of elephant populations, how they interact, and what areas may be critical to conserve in order to preserve genetic diversity of the species.

Measuring the true cost of conservation
BU Professor created the first high-resolution map of land value in the United states.

Environmental groups moving beyond conservation
Although non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become powerful voices in world environmental politics, little is known of the global picture of this sector.

Hunting for the next generation of conservation stewards
Wildlife ecology students become the professionals responsible for managing the biodiversity of natural systems for species conservation.

Conservation research on lynx
Scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (Leibniz-FMP) discovered that selected anti-oxidative enzymes, especially the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD2), may play an important role to maintain the unusual longevity of the corpus luteum in lynxes.

New 'umbrella' species would massively improve conservation
The protection of Australia's threatened species could be improved by a factor of seven, if more efficient 'umbrella' species were prioritised for protection, according to University of Queensland research.

Trashed farmland could be a conservation treasure
Low-productivity agricultural land could be transformed into millions of hectares of conservation reserve across the world, according to University of Queensland-led research.

Bats in attics might be necessary for conservation
Researchers investigate and describe the conservation importance of buildings relative to natural, alternative roosts for little brown bats in Yellowstone National Park.

Applying biodiversity conservation research in practice
One million species are threatened with extinction, many of them already in the coming decades.

Read More: Conservation News and Conservation Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.