The leaf-feeding beetle, Cassida rubiginosa, has no impact on Carduus pycnocephalus (slender winged thistle) regardless of physical constraints on plant growth
Keywords:folivory, herbivory, pot size, plant stress, thistle
The leaf-feeding beetle, Cassida rubiginosa, is an oligophagous biocontrol agent capable of feeding on most species in the tribe Cardueae (thistles and knapweeds). The beetle was released in New Zealand in 2007, primarily to control Cirsium arvense (Californian thistle), with the recognition that it had potential to control multiple thistle weeds. The objective of this study was to test the impact of different densities of Cassida rubiginosa larvae (0, 50, 100, or 200 per plant) on the growth and reproductive performance of the annual thistle weed, Carduus pycnocephalus (slender winged thistle). Since the effectiveness of biocontrol agents is often enhanced when plants are stressed, different levels of growth constraint were imposed by growing the weed in different pot sizes (0.5, 1, 5, and 12 litres). We hypothesised that feeding damage by Cassida rubiginosa larvae would have a greater impact on the weed when grown in smaller pots, since root growth would be constrained, and the weed’s ability to compensate for feeding damage would be restricted. Contrary to our hypothesis, pot size had no effect on feeding damage by Cassida rubiginosa on Carduus pycnocephalus. As expected, most measures of plant performance increased with larger pot sizes, including plant height, biomass, and the number of seedheads per plant. The results of this study indicate that Cassida rubiginosa is unlikely to contribute to the control of Carduus pycnocephalus. Additional oligophagous biocontrol agents targeting the rosette stage and seed production should be considered for release in New Zealand.