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Title: Four-trophic level food webs reveal the cascading impacts of an invasive plant targeted for biocontrol
Authors: López-Núñez, Francisco A. 
Heleno, Ruben H
Ribeiro, Sérgio
Marchante, Hélia
Marchante, Elizabete
Keywords: Portugal; alien plants; biocontrol; biological control agent; gallers; inquilines; multi-trophic networks; non-target effects; parasitoids; species-interaction networks
Issue Date: Mar-2017
Volume: 98
Issue: 3
Abstract: Biological invasions are a major threat to biodiversity and as such understanding their impacts is a research priority. Ecological networks provide a valuable tool to explore such impacts at the community level, and can be particularly insightful for planning and monitoring biocontrol programmes, including the potential for their seldom evaluated indirect non-target effects. Acacia longifolia is among the worst invasive species in Portugal, and has been recently targeted for biocontrol by a highly specific gall-wasp. Here we use an ambitious replicated network approach to: (1) identify the mechanisms by which direct and indirect impacts of A. longifolia can cascade from plants to higher trophic levels, including gallers, their parasitoids and inquilines; (2) reveal the structure of the interaction networks between plants, gallers, parasitoids and inquilines before the biocontrol; and (3) explore the potential for indirect interactions among gallers, including those established with the biocontrol agent, via apparent competition. Over a 15-month period, we collected 31,737 galls from native plants and identified all emerging insects, quantifying the interactions between 219 plant-, 49 galler-, 65 parasitoid- and 87 inquiline-species-one of the largest ecological networks to date. No galls were found on any of the 16 alien plant species. Invasion by A. longifolia caused an alarming simplification of plant communities, with cascading effects to higher trophic levels, namely: a decline of overall gall biomass, and on the richness, abundance and biomass of galler insects, their parasitoids, and inquilines. Correspondingly, we detected a significant decline in the richness of interactions between plants and galls. The invasion tended to increase overall interaction evenness by promoting the local extinction of the native plants that sustained more gall species. However, highly idiosyncratic responses hindered the detection of further consistent changes in network topology. Predictions of indirect effects of the biocontrol on native gallers via apparent competition ranged from negligible to highly significant. Such scenarios are incredibly hard to predict, but even if there are risks of indirect effects it is critical to weigh them carefully against the consequences of inaction and invasive species spread.
ISSN: 0012-9658
DOI: 10.1002/ecy.1701
Rights: openAccess
Appears in Collections:I&D CFE - Artigos em Revistas Internacionais

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