Biological Control in Natural Areas: A good or bad idea?

Monday Oct. 3rd, 6:30 PM, Legion Hall, 75 Hollis Street, Groton

Did you know that Groton is a major site on the front lines of the battle against an invasive species?  Beetles with a particular fondness for purple loosestrife, a beautiful but highly invasive wetland plant, were released at multiple Groton sites in the 2000s.  This concept – “Biological Control” of an invasive species via introduction of highly specific species that eat or otherwise destroy the invasive – is in practice worldwide and the focus of cutting edge research.  Want to learn more about biological control of invasive species?

The Groton Invasive Species Committee invites the public to a special presentation by Dr. Roy Van Driesche, Professor of Entomology at UMass Amherst.  Dr. Van Driesche will present “Biological Control in Natural Areas: A good or bad idea?”.  Global and local examples will be covered, including practical steps for land managers, property owners, and folks interested in conservation.  Refreshments will be served, and the talk will be preceded and followed with time for networking, questions, and discussion.

Please contact the Invasive Species Committee with any questions.  Dr. Van Driesche’s biographical sketch and the talk abstract are below.  Come out for a fun and educational evening!

Biological Sketch:

Dr. Roy Van Driesche is a Professor of Entomology in the Department of Environmental Conservation at UMass Amherst, with over 30 years’ experience in the field.  Author of over 150 research articles and 12 books including “Biological Control”, “Nature Out of Place: Biologial Invasions in a Global Age”, and “Integrating Biological Control into Conservation Practice”, Dr. Van Driesche is expert in invasive insects and the use of biological control to reduce impacts of invasive plants and insects.

Talk Abstract:

Biological Control in Natural Areas: A good or bad idea?

Natural areas are increasingly subject to pressures from invasive insects and plants that directly attack native species or displace them through competition for resources. While some of these problems can be relieved at the local level through traditional methods for control of invasive species –cutting, pulling, burning, flooding, use of herbicides, or use of poison baits – the limitations of such approaches are becoming increasingly obvious: (1) often they do not work, (2) many species cannot be eradicated and so treatments, even if effective in the year of application, must be repeated, causing an unsustainable burden on management budgets, and (3) treatment is economically feasible only for small areas (hundreds or thousands of hectares), while many damaging invasive species require control at much larger scales over whole landscapes.

Consequently, there is a need for more extensive but considered use of biological control in natural areas when there is a need landscape level control and the targeted pest is the true driver of the ecological problem to be fixed. Historically, some biological control agents have, however, damaged populations insects or plants of conservation interest. However, reviews of the levels of such non-target impacts have shown that biocontrol is generally safe and has become increasingly so over the last 30 years.

To use biological control within holistic ecological restoration programs safely, thoughtful decision-making is needed at several levels: (1) selecting good targets where suppression is both required and potentially doable; (2) planning projects with conservation partners to both mitigate potential problems with the biocontrol agents and to add other restoration activities (like replanting of native species) as may be needed; (3) planning ahead how to deal with conflicts that might arise among affect groups. Following this approach, biological control can be a safe and powerful tool in the conservation toolkit to restore natural areas degraded by invasive plants and insects.