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Rhodes University (2021)

Quantifying the impacts of cactus biological control agents in South Africa

Mnqeta, Zezethu

Titre : Quantifying the impacts of cactus biological control agents in South Africa

Auteur : Mnqeta, Zezethu

Université de soutenance : Rhodes University

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) 2021

Résumé partiel
Invasive alien cacti are prominent weeds that threaten indigenous biodiversity and have a negative impact on agricultural productivity in South Africa. These plants are problematic because they form dense thickets that reduce the carrying capacity of rangelands ; restrict the movement of livestock and wildlife thus reducing access to shade and water sources ; and are directly harmful to livestock, wildlife and people due to their sharp spines. Biological control is the most effective, affordable and environmentally friendly method to control invasive alien cacti and minimize their negative impacts. Cochineal insects (Dactylopius spp. : Dactylopiidae) and the gall-forming mealybug, Hypogeococcus sp. (Pseudococcidae) are used as biological control agents for cacti. The agents are however poor dispersers, so mass-rearing and augmentative releases are required in order to establish the agents at sites where they are needed. This study aimed to evaluate the mass-rearing and release efforts of cactus biological control in South Africa, quantify the impact of the biological control agents on cactus plant populations through long-term monitoring, and assess the benefits accrued due to the biological control agents through the perceptions of land-users. An assessment of the effectiveness of the release effort for cactus biological control agents was conducted by comparing where biological control agents have been released with the known distribution of the target weeds. Only 26% of the quarter degree squares that are known to be occupied by invasive alien cacti have had biological control agents released in them. This indicated that the mass-rearing and release efforts in South Africa are inadequate and should be increased, especially in areas where few releases have been made and many cacti are present, such as the Limpopo Province. The impact of the biological control agents on cactus plant populations was assessed by monitoring agent densities, target plant densities and target plant reproductive outputs before and after releases. Plant biomass and reproductive output were reduced by biological control agents for three of the target weeds that were assessed, while the duration of the study was too short to measure reductions for the fourth target weed. Benefits to land-users were then quantified through a questionnaire survey. Land-users perceived biological control as an effective management option, with 81% of the land-users reporting that there was less invasive alien cactus after releasing biological control agents on their land. Forty-nine percent of the land-users believed that the negative impacts of the cactus had been reduced and that they benefited more from their land since control was achieved.

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Page publiée le 14 janvier 2023