Publications: Peer-reviewed journal articles (by staff)

Augmentative biocontrol in natural marine habitats: Persistence, spread and non-target effects of the sea urchin evechinus chloroticus

15 November, 2013
CITATION

Atalah J, Hopkins GA, Forrest BM 2013. Augmentative biocontrol in natural marine habitats: Persistence, spread and non-target effects of the sea urchin evechinus chloroticus. PLoS ONE 8(11): e80365.

ABSTRACT

Augmentative biocontrol aims to control established pest populations through enhancement of their indigenous enemies. To our knowledge, this approach has not been applied at an operational scale in natural marine habitats, in part because of the perceived risk of adverse non-target effects on native ecosystems.

In this paper, we focus on the persistence, spread and non-target effects of the sea urchin Evechinus chloroticus when used as biocontrol agent to eradicate an invasive kelp from Fiordland, New Zealand. Rocky reef macrobenthic assemblages were monitored over 17 months in areas where the indigenous algal canopy was either removed or left intact prior to the translocation of a large number of urchins (>50 ind.·m−2). Urchin densities in treated areas significantly declined ~9 months after transplant, and began spreading to adjacent sites.

At the end of the 17-month study, densities had declined to ~5 ind.·m−2. Compared to controls, treatment sites showed persistent shifts from kelp forest to urchin barrens, which were accompanied by significant reductions in taxa richness. Although these non-target effects were pronounced, they were considered to be localised and reversible, and arguably outweigh the irreversible and more profound ecological impacts associated with the establishment of an invasive species in a region of high conservation value.

Augmentative biocontrol, used in conjunction with traditional control methods, represents a promising tool for the integrated management of marine pests.