Bottom-up control of water hyacinth weevil populations: do the plants regulate the insects?
Nutrient availability varies widely in aquatic systems and is likely to profoundly affect the outcomes of plant-herbivore interactions in aquatic environments. This has implications in programmes aimed at the biological control of water weeds. We hypothesized that nutrient flux seasonally affects ovarian development of two specialist weevil species, Neochetina eichhorniae and Neochetina bruchi, thereby influencing population growth on the floating plant Eichhornia crassipes. We also hypothesized that the weevils differed in their sensitivities to nutritional quality and interacted differently depending on host quality. To test these hypotheses, we cultured E. crassipes plants under 20 fertilizer regimens then introduced reproductively dormant, over-wintering female weevils as single or mixed species populations. They were later retrieved and dissected to ascertain ovarian status. F1 progeny was extracted biweekly to compare fecundity with population growth. Ovaries regained functionality and the reproductive proportion of the population increased with fertilizer rate as did the fecundity of reproductive individuals. F1 progeny increased exponentially from 7 to over 300 weevils tank-1 in the highest fertilizer treatment. Mixed species treatments produced more offspring under high fertilizer rates than single species treatments (236±32 mixed vs. 155±25 N. bruchi or 170±33 N. eichhorniae pure). Neochetina eichhorniae was more productive throughout than N. bruchi, but N. bruchi performed nearly as well in high fertilizer treatments. Ratios of the two species remained consistent whether in single or mixed species populations suggesting a lack of interspecific interference. However, N. eichhorniae seemed more adaptable to a wider range of plant quality and more tolerant of lower nutritional circumstances. Synthesis and applications. The coupling of reproductive status of the parental generation with the population response of the F1 generation indicates that plant quality drives population growth of both weevil species, demonstrating bottom-up regulation. This largely explains the variable performance of these weevils as biological control agents. These results emphasize the importance of considering bottom-up regulation in evaluating host range trials, predicting efficacy and in post-release evaluations. In addition, they suggest that partial herbicide treatments to accomplish phased removal of infestations could enhance the quality of the remaining plants, thereby better integrating biological control into current E. crassipes management systems.