Phragmites australis (Cavanilles) Trinius ex Steudel (Arundineae: Poaceae) is an invasive plant in freshwater and brackish North American wetlands. Inability to control this grass with chemical, mechanical, or physical means resulted in initiation of a biological weed control program. As part of investigations of potential biocontrol agents attacking P. australis in Europe, we compared distribution, life history, and host plant use of four sympatric stem-boring noctuid moths in the field and in common gardens. Archanara geminipuncta (Haworth) is the most widespread and abundant species followed by Archanara dissoluta (Treitschke), Archanara neurica (Hübner), and Arenostola phragmitidis (Hübner). The two early species, Aren. phragmitidis and Arch. neurica, hatch from overwintering eggs ≈2 wk before the later species, and shorter larval development causes adults of early species to emerge 2–4 wk before Arch. geminipuncta and Arch. dissoluta. Early Aren. phragmitidis and Arch. geminipuncta instars are facultatively gregarious, whereas Arch. dissoluta and Arch. neurica always occur as single individuals. Depending on the species, two to four shoot changes are necessary to complete development. All species pupate in P. australis shoots, except for Aren. phragmitidis, which pupates on the ground. Although we found subtle differences in life history and phenology, current data are unable to explain large differences in field abundance of the four noctuid moths. Based on impact, field abundance, and distribution in the native range, Arch. geminipuncta seems the most promising potential biocontrol agent.
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Vol. 99 • No. 4