Biological control: Premises, ecological input and Mimosa pigra in the wetlands of Australia's Top End

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Abstract

The adverse impacts of weeds on natural ecosystems, together with the inadequate outcomes from treating weeds as a symptom, have escalated interest in finding efficacious control methods. With the aim of protecting wetlands from invasive weeds, this contribution uses the woody shrub Mimosa pigra L. (mimosa) as a case history to examine the methodology of classical biological control and the reasons for the widely accepted 75% failure rate. Overall objectives are for all biocontrol agents to have the opportunity to fully express their potential and to insure that limited resources are spent wisely on attainable weed control. The three main conclusions were that (1) the premises on which biocontrol is based has restricted advancement of this method; (2) monitoring is the logical first step to improving the selection of agents and release sites; and (3) it may be more cost-effective to introduce fewer agents that have undergone agent/plant and host/home range pre- and post-release ecological studies. Weed control may remain elusive unless advantage is taken of every beneficial result. Innovative assistance to agents and the integration of different control methods may preserve a role for weed biological control and has the potential to be of great importance for future weed management. It is proposed that the climate in the Top End of the Northern Territory and the lack of competition on the floodplains has contributed to mimosa's invasiveness. Climate may also underly the difficulties faced by agents. Agents appear unable to impart effective control in the dry season because of low numbers which relates to mimosa's poor growth; nor in the wet season, when the impact from high numbers of agents is outstripped by mimosa's growth.

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