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Effects of biological control agents and exotic plant invasion on deer mouse populations

Posted date: April 21, 2015
Publication Year: 
Publication Series: 
Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Source: Ecological Applications. 14(1): 241-253.


Exotic insects are commonly introduced as biological control agents to reduce densities of invasive exotic plants. Although current biocontrol programs for weeds take precautions to minimize ecological risks, little attention is paid to the potential nontarget effects of introduced food subsidies on native consumers. Previous research demonstrated that two gall flies (Urophora affinis and U. quadrifasciata) introduced for biological control of spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa) dramatically affect the foraging ecology of the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus), a native generalist predator with important trophic linkages. In the current study, we found that relative abundance of deer mice was elevated twofold in grassland habitats with high densities of spotted knapweed and gall fly food sources, compared to those dominated by native vegetation, in two of three years. Availability of gall fly larvae during the critical overwinter period appeared to reduce overwinter population declines of mice in knapweed-invaded habitats. These positive effects on populations apparently overshadowed negative effects on breeding productivity associated with knapweed invasion and loss of the gall fly resource during the summer. Our results suggest that insect biocontrol agents can subsidize native consumer populations, setting the stage for various indirect effects on food webs. Comprehensive understandings of the conditions under which introduced biological control agents may exhibit nontarget effects on native food webs are needed to further develop criteria for screening potential biocontrol agents before they are released.


Ortega, Yvette K.; Pearson, Dean E.; McKelvey, Kevin S. 2004. Effects of biological control agents and exotic plant invasion on deer mouse populations. Ecological Applications. 14(1): 241-253.