Indirect effects of host-specific biological control agents

Dean E. Pearson, Ragan M. Callaway

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

183 Scopus citations


Biological control is a crucial tool in the battle against biological invasions, but biocontrol agents can have a deleterious impact on native species. Recognition of risks associated with host shifting has increased the emphasis on host specificity of biocontrol agents for invasive weeds. However, recent studies indicate host-specific biocontrol agents can also exhibit substantial nontarget effects through indirect interactions and food-web subsidies. Based on an evaluation of these studies, we conclude that the interaction strength between biocontrol agents and their hosts is at least as important as host specificity for determining the outcome of biocontrol introductions. Host-specific biocontrol agents that establish, but fail to reduce the densities of their hosts can facilitate bottom-up effects that link the target weed to other native organisms through food webs, thereby expanding the impacts of the invasive weed. We believe that indirect nontarget effects of host-specific biocontrol agents arising from food-web subsidies could prove more deleterious to native species than are the direct nontarget effects currently recognized from host shifting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)456-461
Number of pages6
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2003


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