Our study reports the results of field and garden experiments designed to quantitatively evaluate the impact of herbivory by a weed biological control agent, the stem-mining weevil Mecinus janthinus Germar, on the growth of its exotic host Dalmatian toadflax, Linaria dalmatica (L.) Miller. Herbivory by M. janthinus under both natural and manipulated environmental conditions inhibited L. dalmatica growth. Reductions in stem length, biomass, and growth were more pronounced for plants subjected to both exophagous (adult) and endophagous (larval) feeding injury than for plants exposed only to adult folivory. Decreases we observed in root biomass could additionally inhibit shoot production from lateral roots. This provides a plausible mechanism explaining anecdotal reports correlating the reduced spread of L. dalmatica with attack by M. janthinus. Our results indicate that L. dalmatica growth is compromised once a threshold density equivalent to 5 M. janthinus larvae per stem is exceeded. The consistency of growth responses observed in this study suggests that a mechanistic/quantitative approach, such as measuring the impact of M. janthinus herbivory on L. dalmatica, is a robust and relevant method for postrelease evaluations of weed biocontrol efficacy.
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Vol. 46 • No. 3