Classical biological control against insect pests in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East: what influences its success?
Many factors can affect the success and failure of classical biological control. However, these factors have mainly been studied independently of each other, which leaves their relative importance within the complexity of classical biological control (CBC) programmes unknown. Therefore, we set out to take a more holistic view on the factors that may impact the outcome of CBC of insect pests by insect predators and parasitoids. To this end, we filtered the BIOCAT catalogue to extract entries for the Greater Western Palearctic ecozone and added 15 new explanatory variables. These mainly concerned traits of released biological control agents, target pests, and host plants of the target, but also included the number of introductions for specific agent-target combinations as a management aspect. We then analyzed the data regarding three levels of success: agent establishment, impact on the target population, and complete control of the target. Between 1890 and 2010 a total of 780 introductions of insects for biological control were undertaken in the analyzed area, constituting 416 agent-target combinations. Overall success of agent establishment was 32%, successful impact of single agents on their target was 18%, and success of complete control was 11%. The number of factors significantly influencing the outcome of CBC decreased with increasing level of success. Remarkably few agent-related factors influenced the success: insect predators as agents decreased the probability of establishment and using oligophagous parasitoids significantly decreased the chances of complete control. Other significant factors were related to traits of target pests or their host plants. For example, sap feeders and target pests attacking reproductive plant parts were more likely to be successfully controlled. The rate of success increased with the number of introductions of CBC agents, in particular against univoltine target pests. These findings suggest that a focus on agent-related traits to increase the chances of successful CBC is not fully justified and should be complemented with the consideration of lower trophic levels and other aspects of CBC, such as abiotic factors and management.