Buying time: preliminary assessment of biocontrol in the recovery of native forest vegetation in the aftermath of the invasive emerald ash borer.
Introduced forest pests have become one of the major threats to forests, and biological control is one of the few environmentally acceptable management practices. Assessing the impacts of a biocontrol program includes evaluating the establishment of biocontrol agents, the control of target pest, the impact on the affected organism, and the indirect impacts that the biocontrol agent may have on the whole community. We assessed the recovery of forest vegetation following the mortality of ash trees caused by the invasive emerald ash borer (EAB) pest in forest stands where biocontrol agents were released or not. We used a multilevel framework to evaluate potential indirect effects of the biocontrol agents on native forest seedlings. Our results showed a higher number of ash saplings where increasing numbers of the dominant EAB biocontrol agent were released, while the number of invasive and weedy saplings was negatively associated with the number of ash saplings, and the density of native seedlings was negatively associated with invasive and weedy saplings. The protection of ash saplings by the biocontrol agent may help native recruitment during forest transition by supporting the growth of native hardwood seedlings over invasive and weedy species. These results show that research on the efficacy of EAB biocontrol should include all ash size classes and the community dynamics of co-occurring species.