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Biological Control Development

By Olivia Doyle, UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (CAIP) Communication Assistant

Biological control agents can be insects, fish or pathogens that target a specific invasive plant and increase the competitive advantage of native plants. They diminish the numbers of the invasive plants by targeting only one plant species and keeping populations in check.

Behind every successful biological control agent is a rigorous development process for pinpointing different potential organisms, testing their effectiveness and ensuring they will only target the desired plant. The process requires multiple steps along with careful research before an organism can be approved. This task can take sufficient time, money, resources and collaboration.

Step 1: Discovery and identification  

The first step in identifying a successful biological control agent is for researchers to travel to the invasive plant’s place of origin and research that plant and its predators in its natural habitat. This field observation and exploration takes many years.

Step 2: Approval for importation and study

Once the organisms targeting the invasive plant is identified in its native range, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Technical Advisory Group (TAG) reviews the organism and must approve it before it can be imported to the U.S. for continued study.

Step 3: Quarantine studies

After the organism has been approved for import, it is placed in a secure quarantine lab where the organism is studied for many things including host-specificity and life-history. These studies ensure the organism will only target the specific plant and will not have a negative impact on native plant communities. This testing process is also very extensive and takes several years. 

Step 4: Initial field release

After applying for and receiving a permit for field release, the biological control agent can be released. Once the approved the biological control agent is released. The agent continues to be monitored by researchers, state and federal agencies to assess its impacts and establishment in its new range. Based on this information, agents may or may not be rereleased.

The development of biological control agents is a very lengthy process; however, it has resulted in many success stories including air potato beetles, grass carp, Brazilian peppertree thrips and alligator weed flea beetles. For more information on biological control agents, their development process and more, visit http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/manage/control-methods/biological-control/.

This piece was written by Olivia Doyle, the current UF/IFAS CAIP communication assistant. Any questions should be directed to Shelby Oesterreicher at 352-273-3667 or soesterreicher@ufl.edu For more information about the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants please visit https://plants.ifas.ufl.edu. Be sure to follow us on social @UFIFASCAIP.

UF/IFAS CAIP, Turning Science Into Solutions.