Ecology and management of sheoak (Casuarina spp.), an invader of coastal Florida, U.S.A.
The Casuarina spp. are invasive plants in Florida that threaten biological diversity and beach integrity of coastal habitats. The trees include three species and their hybrids that aggressively invade riverine and coastal areas. Of the three species, C. equisetifolia and C. glauca are highly salt tolerant and widespread in coastal areas. The third species, C. cunninghamiana, invades riverine habitats. These species pose dangers to both the environment and public safety. The environmental damage includes interfering with nesting by endangered sea turtles, American crocodiles, and the rare swallow-tailed kite. Additionally, allelochemical leachates reduce germination and establishment of native vegetation. Casuarina-infested beaches are more prone to sand loss and erosion. Moreover, with shallow roots and tall canopies, they are among the first trees to fall in high winds and as such restrict evacuation efforts during hurricanes. Control of these species is mostly with herbicides, requiring repeated applications and monitoring. One of the most cost-effective means of controlling these invasive species would be with classical biological control. Australian surveys for potential biological control agents began in 2004, resulting in the discovery of several promising candidates. These include seed-feeding torymid wasps, defoliating caterpillars and weevils, leaf tip gall-formers from cecidomyiid midges, and sap-feeding psyllids. Continued work is needed to determine the suitability of these species for biological control. Despite conflicts of interest expressed by some homeowners and the agricultural industry who value the trees for shade and windbreaks, there are good prospects for safe and effective biological control of these invasive species.