Potential for biological control of Phragmites australis in North America

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Phragmites australis is a cosmopolitan plant that is undergoing a population explosion in freshwater and tidal wetlands on the east coast of North America. The rapid spread of P. australis in recent years and the virtual absence of native herbivores feeding on P. australis have led wetland ecologists to believe that either the species or more aggressive genotypes were introduced. The historical record of the occurrence of P. australis in North America and the scarcity of indigenous herbivores provide conflicting evidence for the status of the species as native or introduced. A comparison of P. australis populations from North America and other continents using advanced genetic techniques is underway to help determine the status of current and historic North American genotypes. Literature and field surveys reveal that of the 26 herbivores currently known to feed on P. australis in North America (many accidentally introduced during the last decade), only 5 are native. In Europe, over 170 herbivore species have been reported feeding on P. australis, some causing significant damage. Of these herbivores, rhizome-feeding species with considerable negative impact on P. australis performance include the lepidopterans Rhizedra lutosa (already present in North America), Phragmataecia castaneae, Chilo phragmitella, and Schoenobius gigantella. Stemboring moths in the genera Archanara and Arenostola and the chloropid fly Platycephala planifrons can have large detrimental impacts on P. australis in Europe and should be evaluated for their potential as biological control agents. In addition, the interaction of potential control agents with accidentally introduced P. australis herbivores needs to be evaluated in North America. Regardless of the results of the genetic analyses, any decision to introduce additional host-specific herbivores in an attempt to control P. australis will require considerable dialogue. This decision needs to weigh the current negative ecological and economic impacts of P. australis and the benefits and risks of a biological control program. © 2001 Elsevier Science.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Biological Control