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Keywords:

  • classical biocontrol;
  • community recovery;
  • invasive species management;
  • meta-analysis;
  • non-native weeds;
  • population impact;
  • post-release monitoring;
  • restoration

Summary

  1. Invasive alien plants have serious economic and ecological impacts, for example, by displacing native plants and invertebrates, and their management is often costly and ineffective in the long term. Classical biological control using specialized, coevolved natural enemies from the native region of the invader is often advocated as a preferred alternative to chemical and mechanical control, but there is a lack of quantitative assessment of control of the target species and subsequent establishment of native vegetation and invertebrates.
  2. Meta-analyses were carried out combining the results of 61 published studies (2000–2011) that quantified the impact of classical biocontrol at the level of individual target plants, target populations or non-target vegetation. Factors associated with the control programmes (invasive region, native region, plant growth form, target longevity, control agent guild, taxonomy and study duration) were analysed to identify patterns in control success.
  3. On average, biocontrol agents significantly reduced plant size (28 ± 4%), plant mass (37 ± 4%), flower and seed production (35 ± 13% and 42 ± 9%, respectively) and target plant density (56 ± 7%). Beetles in the Chrysomelidae and Curculionidae families were more effective at reducing plant size than other groups.
  4. Non-target plant diversity significantly increased by 88 ± 31% at sites where biocontrol agents were released, but it was largely unclear whether the replacement plant species were native or invasive.
  5. Synthesis and applications. The number of studies that provide quantitative indications of the effectiveness of biocontrol and the response of non-target taxa has increased over the past decade, but remains small compared to the total number of publications on the classical biocontrol of invasive plants. Nonetheless, this study demonstrates the positive impacts of classical biocontrol and the re-establishment of native plants in a broad range of systems and establishes the value of classical biocontrol for the control of invasive alien plants. The Chrysomelidae and Curculionidae families were the most effective agents and we recommend these be prioritized in cases where potential agents of different taxa have also been identified. In addition, data on the recovery of native plant species and the invertebrate community remain sparse and it is recommended that future studies report the identity of plant species that replace target species as well as invertebrate community responses.