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Maximising the contribution of native-range studies towards the identification and prioritisation of weed biocontrol agents


  • John A Goolsby,

    Corresponding author
    1. USDA-ARS, Kika de la Garza Subtropical Research Center, Beneficial Insects Research Unit, 2413 E. Hwy. 83, Weslaco, TX 78596, USA (formerly USDA-ARS Australian Biological Control Laboratory, CSIRO Long Pocket Laboratories, Indooroopilly, Qld 4068, Australia).
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  • Rieks D Van Klinken,

    1. CSIRO Entomology, Long Pocket Laboratories, 120 Meiers Rd, Indooroopilly, Qld 4068, Australia.
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  • William A Palmer

    1. Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines, Alan Fletcher Research Station, PO Box 36, Sherwood, Qld 4075, Australia.
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Abstract  Effective study in the native range to identify potential agents underpins all efforts in classical biological control of weeds. Good agents that demonstrate both a high degree of host specificity and the potential to be damaging are a very limited resource and must therefore be carefully studied and considered. The overseas component is often operationally difficult and expensive but can contribute considerably more than a list of herbivores attacking a particular target. While the principles underlying this foreign component have been understood for some time, recently developed technologies and methods can make very significant contributions to foreign studies. Molecular and genetic characterisations of both target weed and agent organism can be increasingly employed to more accurately define the identity and phylogeny of them. Climate matching and modelling software is now available and can be utilised to better select agents for particular regions of concern. Relational databases can store collection information for analysis and future enquiry while quantification of sampling effort, employment of statistical survey methods and analysis by techniques such as rarefaction curves contribute to efficient and effective searching. Obtaining good and timely identifications for discovered agent organisms is perhaps the most serious issue confronting the modern explorer. The diminishing numbers of specialist taxonomists employed at the major museums while international and national protocols demand higher standards of identity exacerbates the issue. Genetic barcoding may provide a very useful tool to overcome this problem. Native-range work also offers under-exploited opportunities for contributing towards predicting safety, abundance and efficacy of potential agents in their target environment.

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