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Predicting the perfect predator
Date:2/13/2008

Garlic mustard has become an invasive species in temperate forests across the United States, choking out native plants on forest floors and threatening ecosystem diversity. University of Illinois ecologist Adam Davis has created a computer model that in combination with quarantined research tests he believes will be able to predict the perfect predator -- a pest that can be introduced into a forested area that will help reduce the garlic mustard population.

The traditional method has been to release multiple agents into the environment and overwhelm the pest, said Davis. But with multiple introductions comes an increased likelihood that one of the agents will become invasive as well. So, what were trying to do is to figure out which one is the most likely to actually have an impact on garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and release as few agents as possible.

Davis is a member of the research team for USDAs Invasive Weed Management Unit at the U of I. He has been working since 2004 on a project along with scientists at Michigan State, Cornell, and the Commonwealth Institute of Biological Control in Switzerland.

Davis computer model creates a simulation of the population dynamics of the pest species its seed and growth cycle, stressors, etc. Then you can introduce the biological control agents that youre considering one at a time and see whether you can get away with just introducing one agent, said Davis. I collected data from field experiments and entered them into the computer model which then projects forward which agent will be most effective.

The computer simulation was used to select a tiny weevil, about the size of an o in 12 point type. There are actually several weevils that feed on garlic mustard back home in Europe, where it comes from, said Davis. This particular weevil that were looking at (Ceutorhynchus scrobicollis) feeds on the plant at several stages in its life cycle so its a much more effective agent than
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Contact: Debra Levey Larson
dlarson@uiuc.edu
217-244-2880
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert

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