What is Biological Control?

An invasive plant is a nonnative plant that spreads rapidly and can cause harm to the environment, economy, and human health. Unlike native plants, nonnative plants are not originally from this area. Without proper management, invasive plants can crowd out native species that provide critical food and shelter for animals. Biological control is an effective way to manage invasive species and minimize damage to the environment.

Air potato at Snyder Park in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

As plants evolve over time, they co-evolve with enemies to create a harmonious predator/prey relationship. Away from their native habitat, invasive plants are free from these enemies allowing them to spread quickly. Biological Control is a method of re-introducing an invasive plant with it’s natural enemy (typically an insect) in order to slow reproduction and minimize spread.

Air potato leaf beetle on an air potato plant.

Before the enemy, or “agent,” is released it goes through rigorous scientific testing. This ensures that the agent won’t harm other organisms. To learn more about this long process, read: How Scientists Obtain Approval to Release Organisms for Classical Biological Control of Invasive Weeds.

Why use biological control?

As previously discussed, we must control invasive plants to protect ourselves and the environment. There are three main methods of invasive species control:

  • Chemical control (herbicide use)
  • Mechanical control (pulling, digging, cutting, mowing, etc.)
  • Or, biological control

 

Invasive plants can cover huge surface areas or be difficult to physically remove. Therefore, both chemical and mechanical control can cost significant time, money, and manpower. In addition, improper or over-use of herbicides has negative environmental impacts. Although the best control method depends on many factors such as species and location, control can be more effective when multiple methods are used together. Biological control is an important tool in managing invasive plants.

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