Date of Award:

Summer 2017

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Biology

Advisor/Chair:

Edward W. Evans

Abstract

Invasive weeds are threatening ecosystem function and productivity all over the world by outcompeting desirable vegetation and reducing species diversity. One option for long-term control of such weeds is biological control using natural insect enemies. Such a program has been developed for management of Dalmatian toadflax (Linaria dalmatica (L.) Miller (Plantaginaceae)) in North America using a stem-mining weevil, Mecinus janthiniformis Toševski and Caldara (Coleoptera: Curculionidae). Although widely effective in northern regions, such as in British Columbia and in the American northwest, this insect has been slow to suppress Dalmatian toadflax in southern most regions of their current range, including areas in Utah and Colorado, and little is known of the limiting factors leading to slow weed suppression in these areas.

Using field assessments of insect and plant activity over two growing seasons at several sites, this study aimed to provide degree-day and calendar-date descriptions of insect phenology. In addition, dead, overwintered Dalmatian toadflax stems were dissected to determine overwintering mortality of weevil adults before spring emergence, and living stems were dissected to determine development stages and mortality of weevils during summer development.

Degree-day and calendar-date based models independently resulted in consistent trends in weevil phenology between sites and between years in this study, although the degree-day model is likely to be most useful for purposes of predicting weevil life cycle timing. Interestingly, the sexes differed in their phenology in that males consistently emerged from overwintering sites and were found on Dalmatian toadflax stems considerably earlier than females in the spring. Females as well as males tended to peak in abundance on stems in late-May when Dalmatian toadflax stems reached full maturity.

Overall mortality of M. janthiniformis during a lifecycle was low for all samples; approximately 83% of adults successfully emerged from overwintered stems in the following spring, and greater than 65% of larvae survived to adulthood before overwintering. This resulted in >50% of weevils surviving larval development, overwintering, and spring emergence as adults. The majority of M. janthiniformis deaths (51%) resulted from parasitism by chalcidoid wasps during summer development to adulthood. These parasitoid wasps, and also M. janthiniformis adults, likely created the peculiar exit holes that were observed in live Dalmatian toadflax stems during the summer.

Although M. janthiniformis populations were slow to provide effective control of Dalmatian toadflax at sites in Utah, this study indicates that the phenology and survivorship of M. janthiniformis individuals in Utah are well suited for successful biocontrol. If given enough time to build populations, M. janthiniformis appears to be capable of providing effective Dalmatian toadflax control in southern regions, but other limiting factors, such as precipitation and host plant quality, should be considered in future studies to explain slow weed suppression. Phenology models and estimates of mortality of M. janthiniformis generated by this study at sites in Utah may be helpful in implementing future biocontrol programs of Dalmatian toadflax.

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