Host specificity, establishment and dispersal of the gorse thrips, Sericothrips staphylinus Haliday (Thysanoptera: Thripidae), a biological control agent for gorse, Ulex europaeus L. (Fabaceae), in Australia
Ireson, J and Gourlay, AH and Holloway, RJ and Chatterton, WS and Foster, S and Kwong, RM, Host specificity, establishment and dispersal of the gorse thrips, Sericothrips staphylinus Haliday (Thysanoptera: Thripidae), a biological control agent for gorse, Ulex europaeus L. (Fabaceae), in Australia, Biological Control, 45, (3) pp. 460-471. ISSN 1049-9644 (2008) [Refereed Article]
Sericothrips staphylinus was released as a biological control agent for Ulex europaeus in New Zealand and Hawaii following tests on ca. 80 plant species which showed it was narrowly oligophagous. To determine the suitability of S. staphylinus for release in Australia, further host specificity tests were conducted on 38 species and cultivars of Australian plants. These tests confirmed that S. staphylinus would feed only on U. europaeus in Australia and, following formal approval, was released in Tasmania during January 2001. To develop an optimal release strategy for S. staphylinus under Australian conditions, a field trial based on an earlier New Zealand study was conducted by replicating releases of 10, 30, 90, 270 and 810 adults. Results showed that population growth, reproduction rate and the number of S. staphylinus recovered 14 months after release can be non-linear functions of release size and establishment could be achieved with as few as 10 thrips. As S. staphylinus is easily cultured ca. 250 thrips were chosen as the minimum number for release because, based on a negative binomial model, this release size produced close to the maximum population growth. Surveys in early 2007 recovered S. staphylinus from 80% of 30 sites in Tasmania, the post release period ranging from 1 to 6 years. However, densities were low (<1 thrips/cm of tip growth) with no evidence of visible plant damage. The maximum dispersal range was 180-250 m after 38 months. At all the other sites, dispersal was estimated at less than 120 m. It is possible that S. staphylinus populations are still in the lag phase of their establishment before starting to increase rapidly and disperse. However, the survey results support a recent Tasmanian study which indicated that S. staphylinus is a sedentary, latent species characterised by steady densities and low levels of damage to its host plant. Its efficacy as a biological control agent on gorse may be restricted primarily by 'bottom up' effects of plant quality limiting its rate of natural increase and an inability of the thrips to reach large, damaging populations under field conditions.