Flea beetles (Aphthona spp.) are biological control agents introduced from Eurasia to reduce the cover and density of leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula L.). The potential for the introduced beetles to use alternate hosts for feeding and development in North America is slight; however, it is possible. Species at highest risk are native species closely related, ecologically and taxonomically, to leafy spurge. A native spurge, Euphorbia brachycera Engelm. is consubgeneric and sympatric with leafy spurge throughout the northern Great Plains of the United States, and was not included in prerelease host-specificity testing for Aphthona nigriscutis or Aphthona lacertosa. The objective of this study was to evaluate the actual and potential ecological overlap among leafy spurge, flea beetles, and E. brachycera. Wide-ranging and intensive field surveys indicate that E. brachycera is found well within the range of leafy spurge and flea beetles. E. brachycera occurs infrequently, in low densities, in areas with a high percentage of bare ground, and with a root system dissimilar to leafy spurge. Flea beetles released directly into populations of E. brachycera failed to persist beyond a single field season and plants showed no evidence of feeding by beetles. Our results suggest that the potential for flea beetles to host-shift is low due to differences in growth habit and root morphology between E. brachycera and leafy spurge.
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Vol. 59 • No. 5