Trouble in paradise? 'Natural' pest control requires careful planning, Science authors conclude

Mixing exotic plants and animals with native species doesnt always lead to a happy ending, especially in the tropical paradise of Kauai Island, Hawaii. Biocontrolthe introduction of real organisms to control pestscan lead to community-wide ecological harm if not planned carefully, researchers report 17 August 2001 in the international journal, Science.

Some agricultural experts, foresters and conservationists favor biocontrol over chemical solutions such as insecticides and pesticides to eradicate or maintain weeds, bugs, and sometimes disease. Yet, if not tested properly beforehand, in a community-wide context, introduced species can do more harm than the plant or animal they target, the new study suggests.

Jane Memmott and M. Laurie Henneman of the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom bring new scientific insights to the ongoing debate concerning widespread impacts of biocontrol.

The use of biocontrol to fight pestsand even invasive species, the second largest problem in biodiversity and conservation, next to habitat destructionhas clear environmental benefits, Memmott emphasized. But, she added, a biocontrol agent gone wild may have the potential to impose adversely cascading events in the food chain, either directly or indirectly.

Since 1945, Hawaii has had a history of non-native, or exotic species being purposefully introduced into the ecosystem. Memmott and Henneman wanted to examine, in a calculable way, the degree to which certain biocontrol species are interacting with native species. So, they constructed food webs of Hawaiian plants, butterflies and moths, and parasitoids.

The Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) feed on the plants. Parasitoids, such as alien wasps, lay eggs on the bodies of Lepidoptera caterpillars, causing an early death before the parasite larvae metamorphose into winged insects. Researchers wanted to map out exactly who eats what, to keep track of the real impact of n

Contact: Ginger Pinholster
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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