Persistence of the flowerbud weevil Anthonomus santacruzi in optimal versus marginal areas: implications for the biological control of the invasive tree Solanum mauritianum in South Africa.
Anthonomus santacruzi Hustache (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) was released in South Africa to offset the extensive reproductive output of the invasive tree Solanum mauritianum Scopoli (Solanaceae). Widespread establishment has occurred predominantly in the coastal areas of KwaZulu-Natal province, with limited success in higher-altitude inland areas. Irrespective of location, populations exhibit peaks in the austral autumn and decline during winter. In this study, we evaluated the persistence of A. santacruzi populations in climatically-optimal coastal areas versus climatically-marginal inland areas. The weevil's pre- and post-winter abundance was surveyed at six coastal and six inland sites during 2018, and compared between areas and seasons. The 2018 pre-winter data were also compared to 2016 pre-winter data collected at the same sites. During 2018, pre- and post-winter numbers were six times and 22 times higher, respectively, at optimal sites than at marginal sites, with substantial winter declines at all sites. Post-winter weevil numbers at optimal sites were significantly higher than pre-winter numbers at marginal sites. Pre-winter numbers at optimal sites were not significantly different between 2016 and 2018, but at marginal sites were significantly lower in 2018. Inflorescences of S. mauritianum at marginal sites contained significantly more floral material and fruit than those at optimal sites, during both seasons in 2018. Significant negative correlations between A. santacruzi numbers and floral/fruit production suggest some impact on the reproductive output of S. mauritianum. Since A. santacruzi populations are barely persisting in marginal areas, releases in other South African provinces should target locations that are below 300 m in altitude.