Biological control recordkeeping in the USA
There are three main stages in the process of releasing a biological control agent in the USA that may provide useful data for understanding the early phases of biological invasion: (i) importation (typically followed by a quarantine period used for host testing and nontarget studies) followed by quarantine clearance; (ii) first environmental release; and (iii) redistribution of agents from established populations within a state and across state borders (Coulson et al. 2004; Horner 2004). Each of these stages requires permitting by the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Plant Protection and Quarantine (USDA-APHIS-PPQ) and related documentation, except the within-state transfer of nonquarantine organisms (Horner 2004). The first and second stages usually involve USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) state quarantines, which strictly follow the permitting process. In the third stage, numerous private, local, state, and regional agencies, as well as universities become involved in the redistribution of biological control agents. Each agency has different standards for regulation, and interstate movement of biological control organisms probably occurs without proper permits. The documentation of biological control releases and establishment of agents depends on the various participating agencies and institutions. Prior to 1980, each ARS quarantine facility, mostly involved in stages one and two, had their own forms and protocol for documentation (Coulson et al. 2004). The need for standardized documentation was realized as the number of quarantine facilities increased (Coulson et al. 2004).
A serious attempt was made in 1982 to standardize biological control recordkeeping by the establishment of the USDA ARS Biological Control Documentation Center (BCDC) (Knutson et al. 1987). The BCDC developed paper forms for recording each of the above-mentioned three stages of biological control practice to set up a uniform documentation system. The BCDC also maintains extensive records on biological control activities, mostly within the USDA, including published and unpublished reports, reprints, correspondence, journals and books relating to biological control dating back to the 1930s (Knutson et al. 1987). One of the BCDC’s greatest accomplishments was the launch of an online electronic database named ROBO (Releases of Beneficial Organisms in the United States and Territories; http://www.ars-grin.gov/nigrp/robo.html). This program attempted to integrate information from participating US agencies and quarantines conducting classical biological control programs. ROBO currently provides records on importation/exportation and transfer of biological control organisms and nonindigenous pollinators for the years 1979–2008. Individual files may contain information on the original collection (e.g., shipped agents were field collected or laboratory reared, date and location of collection), initial and subsequent releases (e.g., release sites, dates, numbers of released agents), availability of voucher specimens, and much more or less depending on the given organism (Knutson et al. 1987; Table 2).
Similar databases have been, or are being, developed by various state and local agencies, universities, and individual biological control quarantine facilities or scientists. These projects differ greatly in magnitude among institutions. The BIRLDATA is an example of one of the most comprehensive databases, containing computerized records on importation, transfer and release of biological control agents received at the ARS Beneficial Insects Research Laboratory (BIRL) at Newark, Delaware from 1933 to present (L. Ertle, personal communication; Table 2). This database uses the same forms as ROBO for recording, and several entries in BIRLDATA can also be found in the ROBO database. BIRLDATA is not available online; however, copies can be requested through BIRL. The United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) also has numerous biological control release records, which are not standardized and have not been imported into any USDA database. The BLM is in the process of launching their own internal database, the National Invasive Species Information Management System (NISIMS), which will catalog biological control agent releases and other treatment types within the agency (J. Milan, personal communication).
While web-based catalogs certainly would be the most convenient way to access information on origin, numbers released, initial establishment, and recent distributions of biological control agents, the scope of the available databases do not encompass all the existing data. A plethora of printed documentation is available in the form of annual reviews, reports of local or regional agencies, catalogs, books, peer-reviewed or unpublished publications, original release forms, etc. Even though most of the documents are easily accessible through official channels (e.g., copies of historical release records from quarantines), collating all the available data on a group of organisms can be laborious depending on the details needed. More comprehensive volumes include Clausen’s (1978) world review of biological control of arthropod pests and weeds. Julien and Griffiths (1998) compiled a world catalog for weed biological control agents, listing all attempts (failed or successful) undertaken in biological control of weeds up to 1996. One of the most up-to-date summaries on biological control of weeds contains information on the origin, history, and recent distributions of 94 weed biological control agents and 39 targeted weeds in the USA (Coombs et al. 2004). An updated database is underway, which will provide information on the status of weed biological control agents for the continental USA (E. Coombs, personal communication).
The above-mentioned references, along with the ROBO and BIRLDATA databases, can be useful starting points in search of the history of given biological control organisms, but the acquired data should be interpreted carefully. The catalogs rely mostly on published data, while many biological control agent importations remain unpublished (e.g., Greathead 1986), especially those considered failures (Schroeder and Goeden 1986) or if the program was unfinished (Coulson 1992). More reliable data acquisition may be ensured by focusing on states that are known to maintain extensive databases and release records and conduct intensive biological control programs (e.g., California, Oregon, Hawaii) (Coulson 1992; Coulson et al. 2004). Irregular recordkeeping is a problem for biocontrol records, including files on ROBO. The accuracy and reliability of biocontrol records often are determined by the available funding for a given program, especially the extent of monitoring establishment and efficacy after releases (Blossey 2004). Consequently, as the numbers of institutions and personnel involved in biological control increase, the quality of recordkeeping decreases.
A few additional hurdles to the utility of biocontrol data exist and must be mentioned. Though the permitting process is uniform across agencies, the permits themselves give little information on the fate of biological control agents. Additionally, the long-term monitoring of biological control agents is most often undertaken by various institutions and agencies that become involved at the third stage of releases. These agencies have independently developed different methods for recordkeeping; moreover, they are solicited but not required by law to submit their records to a national database (Coulson et al. 2004). Many agencies simply have not adopted the BCDC forms (Coulson 1992). Along with the development of ROBO, plans also were proposed to establish the US National Voucher Collection of Introduced Beneficial Arthropods (Knutson 1984). The need for such a collection has long been recognized, but this program was curtailed due to loss of technical support within the BCDC (Coulson 1992). As a result, the deposition of voucher specimens has not become centralized or regulated by the USDA or any other federal agency. Annual publications, complementary to the ROBO database, listing all biological control releases within the USA, were discontinued after 1985 due to loss of personnel and the general low priority of biological control documentation within the ARS (Coulson 1992). The situation has not improved in subsequent years; a staff of only one person is responsible for the maintenance of BCDC (G. Hanes, personal communication).
Biological control recordkeeping in Europe
The need to link data on the release of invertebrates as biological control agents across the nations of Europe is increasing (OECD 2004, Bigler et al. 2005a,b; IPPC 2005, Loomans 2007, REBECA http://www.rebeca-net.de). Several levels of standards and regulations have been given by different authorities, including the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the European Union (EU), and the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization (EPPO). A main focus in these standards is the assessment of risk of biological control agents to human health and their effects on local biodiversity. In order to obtain permission to study or release biological control organisms, a substantial amount of information is required. For example, EPPO suggests a dossier that includes a list of biological features (e.g., host plant and life history) as well as ‘1) details of the proposed import (amount and form of the organism, ultimate origin, immediate source); 2) whether the organism was collected from the wild (with greater risk of presence of contaminants and hyperparasites) or reared in the laboratory’ (EPPO 1999). Specific guidelines on release of biocontrol organisms also suggested by EPPO include ‘1) the release program should be fully documented as to identity, origin, numbers/quantity released, dates, localities and any other data relevant to assessing the outcome; 2) evaluation of the releases should be planned in advance, to assess the impact of the organism on the target pest and nontarget organisms’ (EPPO 2001; Table 2).
EPPO lists 91 biological control species on their webpage (EPPO 2008), which are currently used commercially in the 50 EPPO countries. It also includes a list of 43 introduced classical biocontrol agents (which may not be available commercially) in EPPO countries that have successfully established in at least one country. The information includes documentation of both successful and unsuccessful introductions, based on the BIOCAT database from CABI and some EPPO countries. This information can be used to understand differences between successful and unsuccessful introductions. Of the 43 classical biocontrol agents, 35 (81%) are documented to have been released as a single introduction within each country where they were introduced, 7 (16%) are documented to have multiple introductions into at least one of the countries where they were introduced, and one has no information. Four of the 43 species include reference to a failed establishment in at least one country where they were introduced.
Currently, there are limitations to biological control data unity and uniformity in Europe, largely due to the many, independent nations involved. First, implementation and execution of biocontrol regulation in Europe are at the national level and dependent on the national legislation. That is, international standards are not binding, although often they have been the basis for rules and standards at the national level. Nevertheless, huge differences among European countries both at the legislative and implementation levels exist (Loomans 2007). Additionally, the necessary information outlined in the international standards for biocontrol research or release does not contain a mandate to include the information in a database. This results in limited available and unified information across Europe (Loomans 2007).
Biological control recordkeeping in Australia and New Zealand
Biocontrol agents introduced in Australia must go through a government-regulated process that includes importation of the potential agent into containment, host-specificity testing, and eventual release (Harrison et al. 2005). In New Zealand, host-specificity testing is not currently formally regulated, but the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) is advising potential applicants of the importance of appropriate testing because approved applications to date typically included extensive host-specificity testing following a centrifugal phylogenetic approach (Barratt and Moeed 2005). Another difference between the two countries is that once New Zealand grants full release of a biocontrol agent, no monitoring or data collection is required by law, though postrelease monitoring is encouraged. A separate approval category called ‘conditional release’ in New Zealand, however, can put additional regulations on approved releases that mandate monitoring, reporting, and record-keeping (Vieglais and Harrison 2004; Barratt and Moeed 2005). In Australia, monitoring of establishment, efficacy, and any nontarget effects must be reported to the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) 1 year after release (Harrison et al. 2005). Finally, in New Zealand, at least a single voucher specimen of any imported potential biocontrol species is required to be deposited into the New Zealand Arthropod Collection (NZAC) (Berry 1998; http://www.landcareresearch.co.nz). This voucher system ensures the correct taxonomic identity for the imported species.