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Merging Plant-insect Chemical Ecology with Weed Biocontrol to Better Predict Efficacy & Climate Change Impacts

Typical attack by wood borers to fire-injured ponderosa pine showing galleries and bark wood residue.
Typical attack by wood borers to fire-injured ponderosa pine showing galleries and bark wood residue.
Predicting the effectiveness of potential biocontrol agents is one of the great challenges in biocontrol. Because plant chemistry is a central factor regulating plant-insect interactions, it could provide information that can be used to better choose effective agents. One example is induced-plant responses – defenses produced in response to insect feeding – which can be costly for plants to produce. Loss of fitness due to commitment of resources to defense could play a role in determining the success or failure of biocontrol. Results from research attempting to measure the costs of herbivore-induced defenses in houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale) will be presented, and the potential importance for biocontrol discussed.

The second part of the webinar will focus on how climate change could affect weed biocontrol. Climate change can potentially affect biocontrol by directly affecting herbivores, disrupting plant-herbivore synchrony, or by modifying plant chemistry. For example, elevated CO2 usually alters the basic nutritional value of plants, forcing herbivores to consume more foliage. How such changes will affect biocontrol is not known. Climate change can also alter chemical defenses against herbivores with potentially important, but poorly understood consequences for biocontrol. A better understanding of these climate-induced changes is needed to adapt, develop, and use biocontrol to manage invasive plants.

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Justin Runyon

Justin is a research entomologist at the Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) in Bozeman, Montana. He received a Ph.D. from Penn State University in 2008 where he investigated chemically-mediated interactions between invasive parasitic plants (dodder), host plants, and insect herbivores. His research at RMRS focuses on the chemical ecology of plant-insect interactions. Chemistry plays a critical role in most species interactions and underpins community structure and function. His current research includes exploring chemically-mediated ecological interactions between invasive plants and herbivores to improve use of biocontrol as a management tool.