Host range tests reveal Paectes longiformis is not a suitable biological control agent for the invasive plant Schinus terebinthifolia.
The most critical step during a weed biological control program is determination of a candidate agent's host range. Despite rigorous protocols and extensive testing, there are still concerns over potential non-target effects following field releases. With the objective to improve risk assessment in biological control, no-choice and choice testing followed by a multiple generation study were conducted on the leaf-defoliator, Paectes longiformis Pogue (Lepidoptera: Euteliidae). This moth is being investigated as a biological control agent of Schinus terebinthifolia Raddi (Sapindales: Anacardiaceae), which is one of the worst invasive plant species in Florida, USA. Results from no-choice testing showed higher larval survival on S. terebinthifolia (48%) and its close relative Schinus molle L. (47%), whereas lower survival was obtained on six non-target species (<25%). When given a choice, P. longiformis females preferred to lay eggs on the target weed, but oviposition also occurred on four non-target species. An improved performance on the native Rhus aromatica Aiton was found when insects were reared exclusively on this non-target species for one or two generations. Results from host range testing suggest that this moth is oligophagous, but has a preference for the target weed. Non-target effects found during multiple generation studies indicate that P. longiformis should not be considered as a biological control agent of S. terebinthifolia.