Establishment of the biological control agent Hypocosmia pyrochroma for Dolichandra unguis-cati (Bignoniaceae) is limited by microclimate.
Cat's claw creeper, Dolichandra unguis-cati (Bignoniaceae), a perennial woody vine native to tropical America, is a target for biological control in Australia and South Africa. The cat's claw creeper leaf-tying moth Hypocosmia pyrochroma (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) from tropical South America was released as a biological control agent for cat's claw creeper in Australia from 2007 to 2010. A total of 2,277 adults, 837 pupae and 77,250 larvae were released at 40 sites in Queensland and New South Wales. Releases were made mostly in open fields (85%), and at limited sites (15%) in insect-proof cages erected over naturally occurring cat's claw creeper infestations in the field. Sampling was conducted annually in spring and autumn to monitor the establishment and dispersal of H. pyrochroma. Establishment of H. pyrochroma was first noticed in 2012 at three release sites and since then the number of established sites has increased to 80 in 2020. Establishment was evident on both 'short-pod' and 'long-pod' forms of cat's claw creeper and was more widespread in sites where releases were made within insect-proof field cages (50%) than in sites with open field releases (9%). The moth was active from late spring to late autumn with peak larval activity in late summer. To date, all field establishments have been in areas predicted by a CLIMEX model as climatically suitable but restricted mostly to riparian environment (93% of establishment), where the moth has continued to spread from 1.5 to 23 km from release sites. In contrast, there is the only limited establishment and spread in non-riparian corridors, highlighting the role of microclimate (riparian) as a limiting factor for establishment and spread. Future efforts will focus on redistribution of the agent to river/creek systems where the moth is currently not present.