The Potential of Phytophagous Insects in Restoring Invaded Ecosystems: Examples from Biological Weed Control

  • H. Zwölfer
  • H. Zimmermann
Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 173)


Biological weed control attempts to reduce population densities of noxious weeds to a level below thresholds of economic damage by introducing and establishing foreign herbivorous organisms as control agents. Successful control of target weeds using phytophagous insects has so far been achieved in more than 100 projects, but only a relatively small percentage of biologically successfully established insect species have proved capable of substantially reducing the densities of the target weed species. Comparison of the rates of biological success (establishment) with economic success (resource utilization) in biological weed control projects indicates that populations of many phytophagous insects behave not merely as a function of bottom-up and top-down processes, which could be assumed, as the introduced agents are confronted with a surplus of food resources in a relatively enemy-free space. Behavioural patterns, such as density-dependent dispersal, which prevent a full exploitation of the host resource, may explain the failure of many introduced and established phytophagous species to control weed species. We discuss weed situations and properties of phytophagous insect species which have resulted in successful biological weed control and corresponding changes of ecosystems, and list some of the prerequisites for such an insect-mediated change in vegetation cover. The biological control of Carduus nutans by the weevil Rhinocyllus conicus in North America, of Sesbania punicea in South Africa after the introduction of three weevil species, and of Salvinia molesta in Papua New Guinea are described as examples of how insect-plant interactions may strongly affect the vegetation cover and composition and ecosystem properties dependent on them. Such projects demonstrate the potential of certain phytophagous insects to restore floral diversity and food webs in ecosystems where the flow of material and energy has been blocked by pure stands of alien plants.


Biological Control Biocontrol Agent Weed Species Alien Plant Flower Head 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. Zwölfer
  • H. Zimmermann

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