Classical biological control and apparent competition: evaluating a waterhyacinth invaded community module.
The scope and complexity of interactions within community food webs necessitates their simplification to a community module scale for conducting empirical studies. An outdoor mesocosm study in the USA quantified the strengths of direct and indirect interactions between two herbivore congeners that fed on two aquatic plant species while sharing a parasitoid. Kalopolynema ema (Hymenoptera: Mymaridae) is a stenophagous native egg parasitoid that attacks the hemipteran species in this study, Megamelus davisi (Hemiptera: Delphacidae), a native herbivore that feeds on the native aquatic species Nuphar advena, and the introduced biological control agent Megamelus scutellaris (Hemiptera: Delphacidae) that feeds on the non-native aquatic species waterhyacinth, Pontederia crassipes. The presence of M. scutellaris did not significantly increase parasitism of M. davisi indicating that apparent competition was not a factor in this community module. There was no evidence of any trophic cascades caused by these interactions based on the relative growth rates of biomass and leaf area for both plant species. Synthesis and applications. The relative strengths of community interactions varied with herbivore densities suggesting that should negative indirect effects with biological control agents occur they would likely be transient and closely linked to population dynamics as influenced by abiotic factors like temperature. Despite identifying potential negative interactions using path analysis, we saw no apparent competition following the insertion of a weed biological control agent into a community that contains an ecological analog. In this example, the primary negative interaction was biotic resistance to Megamelus scutellaris from attack by Kalopolynema ema. Adopting weed management tactics that emphasize efficacy, sustainability and environmental benevolence argue for the use of classical biological control when appropriate.