The role of nutrients in the biological control of water lettuce, Pistia stratiotes lamarck (Araceae) by the leaf-feeding weevil, Neohydronomus affinis Hustache (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) with particular reference to eutrophic conditions

by Moore, G.R.

Abstract (Summary)
Water lettuce, Pistia stratiotes Lamarck (Araceae) is a South American plant that has the potential to be a very damaging and important aquatic weed in many tropical countries, including South Africa. It has the potential to rapidly multiply vegetatively and completely cover watercourses in a very short space of time outside of its natural range under ideal conditions and without its natural enemies. In such instances, the weed may cause hindrances to water transport and fishing, increasing chances of malaria, as well as affecting the natural ecology of the system. Water lettuce can also set seed, which may lay dormant for long periods, germinating when conditions are favourable. It is therefore very necessary to adopt control methods against the weed where it is a problem. However, water lettuce has also been effectively and completely controlled in many countries by the leaf-feeding weevil, Neohydronomus affinis Hustache. High nutrient levels in the form of nitrates and phosphates have been shown to have largely negative effects on biological control in several studies, with control being incomplete or taking longer than in similar areas with lower nutrient levels.

The effectiveness of N. affinis on the biological control of water lettuce was investigated in a laboratory study, growing P. stratiotes plants with and without insects at different nutrient concentrations. In these studies biological control of water lettuce with N. affinis was found to be complete under eutrophic nutrient conditions, although control took longer when higher nutrient levels were tested.

A field site study was conducted at a sewage settlement pond in Cape Recife Nature Reserve near Port Elizabeth, South Africa. This highly eutrophic system was used as a field example for the effectiveness of biocontrol of P. stratiotes by N. affinis under eutrophic conditions. The weevils at Cape Recife caused a massive and rapid crash in the percentage coverage of the weed, from 100% in May 2003, to approximately 0.5 % in September 2003. Plant growth parameters were also found to decrease considerably in size correspondingly with this crash from May 2003 until spring 2003. Plant size only again started to increase gradually but steadily through spring 2003 and into summer.

In the laboratory studies, the fecundity of weevils was shown to be much higher on plants grown under higher nutrient concentrations than on plants grown in lower nutrient concentrations. The results from the wing-muscle analysis under different nutrient concentrations were not easy to interpret, and there were few differences in wing muscle state between most of the concentrations.

From these findings it is suggested that nutrient concentration, particularly high levels of nitrates and phosphates is not a limiting factor in terms of effective biological control of P. stratiotes with N. affinis, but that under high nutrient conditions biological control might take longer.

Bibliographical Information:


School:Rhodes University

School Location:South Africa

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:zoology entomology


Date of Publication:01/01/2006

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