The impact of two introduced biocontrol agents, Phytomyza vitalbae and Phoma clematidina, on Clematis vitalba in New Zealand.
Insecticide and fungicide exclusion experiments were performed to determine the impact of two biological control agents, an agromyzid leaf-mining fly Phytomyza vitalbae Kaltenbach and a coelomycete fungal pathogen Phoma clematidina (Thüm.) Boerema, on the growth and percentage cover of Clematis vitalba L. (Ranunculaceae) plants. Both insecticide and fungicide treatments significantly reduced control agent damage to C. vitalba leaves over one growing season at Blenheim, New Zealand. However, damage attributable to both agents was rather low and population peaks of both agents occurred in late fall, after the main period of stem growth. There was no significant impact of treatment on growth and only a minor (8-10%), but significant, reduction in percentage cover of C. vitalba was recorded. Disease symptoms were generally only expressed late in the growing season, when leaves were senescent, and were correlated with Py. vitalbae damage. Therefore, we tentatively conclude that alone, Ph. clematidina is insufficiently pathogenic to induce disease symptoms during the main growing season of C. vitalba. Selection criteria for any future potential biocontrol pathogen, therefore, need to evaluate inherent epidemiological factors before introduction, to ensure the candidate agent is an aggressive primary pathogen that can exert maximum disease attack on the target plant. Furthermore, the potential of Py. vitalbae to exist as an asymptomatic endophyte indicates that extra care may be required when assessing survey results for non-target attack, and when testing candidate pathogen biological control agents for host specificity.