Habitat fragmentation and eradication of invading insect herbivores.
Invasions by non-native pests and diseases represent serious threats to biodiversity, agriculture and human health. Under current border arrival rates associated with international trade not all such invasions can be prevented, so early detection and eradication (forced extinction) are important strategies for preventing establishment and long-term impacts. Removal of host plants has historically been a common tool used alone and in concert with other tools for eradication of plant pests but there is little scientific theory specific to the management of invasive species to guide the application of this eradication strategy. We drew upon extensive conservation biology literature documenting the effect of habitat destruction or fragmentation driving extinction. We applied a previously developed spatially explicit model of gypsy moth, Lymantria dispar, spatial dynamics to explore how fragmentation affects population persistence. This model accounts for a component Allee effect driven by mate-finding failure that interacts with dispersal. We observed a nonlinear dependency of population persistence on the fraction of habitat cover and the level of habitat fragmentation. Simulation of active habitat fragmentation via the removal of habitat in swaths of varying widths or the application of pesticide in varying swaths showed that removal of hosts or pesticide application in narrow swaths (i.e. 40 m wide) caused the greatest probabilities of extinction. Generally, habitat removal was more effective than one-off pesticide treatments at causing extinction. Synthesis and applications. Spatially explicit modelling of Allee dynamics in invading gypsy moth populations showed that host removal can be an effective method to eradicate invasive plant-feeding insects especially when habitat fragmentation is applied at a desirable level. Furthermore, this can be used as an alternative to, or in conjunction with, pesticide treatments, to provide more options for carrying out eradications and to increase the probability of eradication success.