Classical biological control programs often target a pest's region of origin as a likely source for new biological control agents. Here, we use this approach to search for biological control agents of the sunflower stem weevil (Cylindrocopturus adspersus LeConte), an economically important pest of commercial sunflower. We conducted surveys of weevil natural enemy diversity and abundance across a transect running from the northern Great Plains to the southwestern U.S. (the presumed area of endemism of annual sunflower species in the genus Helianthus). Accordingly, natural enemy diversity and abundance were expected to be greater in the southwestern U.S. C. adspersus and their larval parasitoids were collected from stems of four native sunflower species (Helianthus annuus, H. nuttallii, H. pauciflorus, and H. petiolaris) from 147 sites across eight states. Native H. annuus constituted the majority of the sunflower populations. Mean weevil densities were significantly higher in sunflower stalks that were larger in diameter. Mean weevil densities within sites did not differ across the range of longitudes and latitudes sampled. After accounting for the effects of stalk diameter and location, weevil densities did not differ among the four sunflower species nor did they differ as a function of elevation. C. adspersus in H. annuus and H. petiolaris were attacked by seven species of parasitoids. No parasitoids were found attacking C. adspersus in H. nuttallii or H. pauciflorus stalks. C. adspersus were twice as likely to be attacked by a parasitoid when feeding on H. petiolaris than H. annuus. Furthermore, the likelihood that C. adspersus would be parasitized decreased with increasing elevation and increasing stem diameters. All parasitoid species have been previously reported attacking C. adspersus larvae in cultivated sunflower. Species richness was less diverse in these collections than from previous studies of cultivated sunflower. Our findings suggest that the species of larval parasitoids attacking C. adspersus in native sunflowers have successfully made the transition to cultivated sunflower.
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