Risk assessment of Episimus unguiculus (Lepidoptera: Tortricidae), a biological control agent of Schinus terebinthifolia (Sapindales: Anacardiaceae) in Hawaii, USA.
Schinus terebinthifolia Raddi (Anacardiaceae) is an introduced ornamental tree from South America that has become one of the most invasive weeds in Hawaii and Florida, USA. Exploratory surveys in the plant's native range from 1950 to 2014 identified several potential biological control agents. One of these is the leaflet rolling moth Episimus unguiculus Clarke (Lepidoptera: Tortricidae), previously known as Episimus utilis Zimmerman. This biological control agent was released in Hawaii in the 1950s where high densities were occasionally observed, leading to partial control of S. terebinthifolia by the 1960s. Larvae are leaf tiers capable of completely defoliating small plants. In order to investigate the release of E. unguiculus in the continental USA, a series of laboratory no-choice, and multiple-choice tests were conducted in Florida, and a preliminary open field test with a native plant in Hawaii. Under the confined laboratory conditions imposed during the no-choice tests, E. unguiculus accepted the economically important Pistacia spp. and several other non-target plants for oviposition and development. However, in the multiple-choice tests E. unguiculus exhibited a clear preference for S. terebinthifolia relative to non-target plants accepted in the no-choice tests. Overall, the results of field observations during surveys in South America and Hawaii and host range studies completed in Hawaii and Florida showed that E. unguiculus is a narrow specialist on S. terebinthifolia, its natural host plant.