Impact of Aceria alhagi (Acari: Eriophyidae) as a potential biological control agent on the invasive weed Alhagi maurorum (Fabaceae) in its native range.
Camelthorn, Alhagi maurorum Medik. (Fabaceae, Leguminosae), a native component of the Asian flora, is invasive in Australia, South Africa and the USA where it is considered a noxious weed in several states. To date there is no biological control program against this weed; however, initial investigations into potential biocontrol agents revealed an eriophyid mite, Aceria alhagi Vidović & Kamali, causing considerable damage in the native range. The mite attacks the growing tips as well as the flowers of the plants, not only reducing height and plant vigor but also reducing seed set. To assess the host range and impact of this potential biological control agent, on the target weed, no-choice tests as well as an open-field impact experiment were conducted at the research farm of the School of Agriculture, Shiraz University, Shiraz, Iran, over 2 years (2018 and 2019). Results from the no-choice tests suggest that A. alhagi poses negligible risk to the non-target plants tested in this study. In the first year of the open field impact test, plants did not flower; however, plant height was significantly reduced by mite attack. In the second year, significant reductions in plant biomass (26%), seed production (95%) and photosynthesis (53%) were observed in response to mite attack that would potentially limit the competitiveness of camelthorn as well as long-distance dispersal through seed in the invaded range. These results suggest that A. alhagi is a promising candidate for the biological control of camelthorn and should be prioritized for any future studies, expanding on the host range testing and safety.