IssueInvasive non-native plants (weeds) jeopardize the health and sustainability of many forest and rangeland ecosystems. Separated from their co-evolved natural enemies, weeds are provided the opportunity to establish and proliferate in their new habitat. Classical biological control (biocontrol) is a long-term strategic management tool used to suppress target weed populations below an economically or ecologically relevant threshold by intentionally reuniting the target weeds with their imported natural enemies. The biocontrol team is part of the Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems Program (GSD). Two team scientists are located at the Bozeman Forestry Sciences Lab – Sharlene Sing (Research Entomologist) and Justin Runyon (Research Entomologist).
ImportanceResearch is needed to identify effective biocontrol agents for an ever increasing number of weed species. Candidate biocontrol agents must be carefully studied to assure that life-cycles and behaviors are matched with the phenological and ecological characteristics of the target weeds. Because both the target weed and its potential biocontrol agent are introduced organisms, biocontrol is not without risk. Consequently, rigorous pre-release evaluations and long-term post-release monitoring are needed to provide a scientific assessment of agent safety and efficacy, especially under fluctuating environmental conditions, including climate change. Biocontrol may be the only viable management option for infestations occurring at landscape scales or in environmentally sensitive wildlands.
Expected OutcomesDedicated personnel and resources in the following research activities will ultimately increase invasive weed management options:
- foreign exploration: locating, selecting, and evaluating the target weed’s natural enemies in their homelands;
- quarantine testing: use approved quarantine facilities to determine host specificity and potential control efficacy;
- permitting: follow prescribed regulatory processes to obtain legal approval to release new biocontrol agents; and
- releasing and monitoring: establish colonies of approved agents to evaluate target and non-target impacts, to develop nursery sites for generating large numbers of agents for widespread redistribution, and to evaluate ecosystem recovery.
Rigorously screened, applied, and evaluated, classical biological control agents can be an effective, target-specific, and sustainable tool, compatible with a variety of integrated weed management programs.
Partners and Collaborators
- Universities throughout the Interior West
- USDA Agricultural Research Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Plant Protection and Quarantine; European Biological Control Laboratory (France)
- USDI Bureaus of Land Management, Reclamation, and Indian Affairs; National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, and Geological Survey.
- Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI, Switzerland)