Evaluating the post-release efficacy of invasive plant biocontrol by insects: a comprehensive approach
We propose a comprehensive program to evaluate the post-release phase of biocontrol programs that use insect herbivores to control invasive plant species. We argue that any release should be done in randomized release and non-release sites and should be followed up by well-replicated sampling and experimental protocols that evaluate the degree of success or failure. These follow-up studies should include landscape scale monitoring across relevant habitat gradients of (1) the abundance of the bio- control agent, (2) the impact of the biocontrol agent on the target plant species, (3) the potential for non-target effects, and (4) the response of native species and communities to a reduction in the invasive species. We also argue that (5) experimental reductions of the biocontrol agent are required to eliminate the chance that the putative impact of the biocontrol agent is not confounded with other causes. Finally, we describe six scenarios, informed largely by a community ecology perspective, in which a biocontrol agent may decrease the abundance or vigor of the target plant species but not lead to successful control where native communities re-establish. We classify these failure scenarios as either direct or indirect effects of the invasive plant species: Native Source Limitation, Static Competitive Hierarchies, Novel Weapons, Trophic Shifts, Invasive Engineering and Associated Invasives. Overall, we argue that well replicated and landscape-scale post release monitoring programs are required not only to evaluate critically the degree of success and failure of biocontrol programs worldwide but also to provide insights into improving future biocontrol efforts.