The factors affecting a native obligate parasite, Cuscuta australis, in selecting an exotic weed, Humulus scandens, as its host.
In weed management, using native parasites to control exotic weeds is considered a better alternative than classical biological control. But the risk must be assessed because of the potential damage caused by these agents. We conducted this project to investigate the mechanism driving the choice of a native obligate parasite, Cuscuta australis, between the exotic, Humulus scandens, and native plants as its host through field and pot experiments. The results showed that C. australis preferred the exotic weed over native (naturalized) hosts and caused a notable reduction in the biomass of H. scandens in the field. In contrast, the results of the pot experiment indicated that C. australis preferred a mix of native (naturalized) hosts over the exotic weed. Both experiments indicated that the parasitic preference of C. australis was induced more by light irradiance than plant water, carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) contents, indicating that the native parasite can only be used to control H. scandens when the exotic weed forms mono-cultures or dominates the community. Accordingly, induction and release of C. australis to control H. scandens should be conducted with great caution.