A recent decline in spotted knapweed, Centaurea stoebe L. subsp. micranthos (Asteraceae), has been observed in parts of western Montana. The release of the biological control agent Cyphocleonus achates (Fahraeus) is thought to contribute to the decline, but persistent drought since at least 1999 may be an additional factor. We conducted outdoor plot experiments to test the relative impacts of C. achates weevils and summer drought relief on spotted knapweed survival and growth. Groups of spotted knapweed transplants were assigned to one of four weekly water addition treatments (no added water, and 0.25, 0.5 or full recovery of plant water deficit, where “deficit” refers to potential evapotranspiration minus rainfall) in May to August 2004 and June to August 2005 and to either exposure to or protection from C. achates. In June of each subsequent year (2005 and 2006), plants were harvested and growth attributes that reflect plant vigor were measured. Drought indices showed that throughout the time of the study until January 2006, western Montana was in drought alert or severe drought. Summer drought relief had no effect on aboveground biomass and plant height of knapweed plants in subsequent years, but feeding by C. achates larvae reduced these two measures of plant vigor. Knapweed plants resuming growth after the drought ended in spring 2006 were significantly larger than those resuming growth under drought conditions in spring 2005. Spring drought may reduce knapweed growth, but C. achates reduced knapweed growth regardless of drought conditions.
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