Field assessment of the host range of Aculus mosoniensis (Acari: Eriophyidae), a biological control agent of the tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima).
Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is a fast-growing deciduous tree native to China, considered a serious invasive species worldwide, with several socio-economic and ecological impacts attributed to it. Chemical and mechanical methods have limited efficacy in its management, and biological controls may offer a suitable and sustainable option. Aculus mosoniensis (Ripka) is an eriophyid mite that has been recorded to attack tree of heaven in 13 European countries. This study aims to explore the host range of this mite by exposing 13 plant species, selected either for their phylogenetic and ecological similarity to the target weed or their economic importance. Shortly after inoculation with the mite, we recorded a quick decrease in mite number on all nontarget species and no sign of mite reproduction. Whereas, after just one month, the population of mites on tree of heaven numbered in the thousands, irrespective of the starting population, and included both adults and juveniles. Significantly, we observed evidence of damage due to the mite only on target plants. Due to the specificity, strong impact on the target, and the ability to increase its population to high levels in a relatively short amount of time, we find A. mosoniensis to be a very promising candidate for the biological control of tree of heaven.