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Florida's Established Arthropod Weed Biological Control Agents and Their Targets1

J. P. Cuda and J. H. Frank 2

Nonnative invasive weeds are considered to be one of the most important threats to biodiversity, second only to habitat destruction (Randall 1996; Pimm and Gilpin 1989). They interfere with crop and pasture production in agroecosystems or alter the composition, structure, and function of natural ecosystems and waterways (Pimentel et al. 2000; Pimentel 2005). The losses in productivity and associated costs of controlling invasive weeds are staggering. Pimentel et al. (2000, 2005) estimate the total cost of invasive weeds to the US economy is $34 billion annually.

Compared to the rest of the continental United States, Florida is more prone to the introduction, eventual establishment, and subsequent invasion of natural communities by invasive weeds because of its unique geographic and environmental characteristics (Simberloff 1997). South Florida's extensive tropical and aquatic habitats, for example, are conducive to the establishment of nonnative terrestrial and aquatic ornamental plants. The Florida peninsula, which is bounded on three sides by water and the fourth by a freeze line, is essentially a subtropical "island" habitat that predisposes this region to nonnative plant invasions. Florida also is dominated by novel habitats created by intense human disturbance because of its popularity as a vacation destination. In FY 2017–2018, government agencies in the state of Florida spent approximately $14 million to control invasive plants (FWC 2018).

Approximately 1,200 out of an estimated 25,000 plant species (~ 5%) deliberately introduced into Florida for crop production and horticultural uses have invaded sensitive aquatic and terrestrial natural areas as well as improved pastures (Pimentel et al. 2005; Rogers et al. 2011). One of the reasons these nonnative plants become invasive is they are introduced into an environment in which they did not evolve and, therefore, lack the natural enemies that limit their reproduction (Williams 1954). Biological control reunites these natural enemies (usually arthropods) with their host plants to selectively weaken and suppress the invasive weeds.

In Florida, arthropod biological control agents currently are established on ten invasive weeds: air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera L.: Dioscoreaceae), alligatorweed (Alternanthera philoxeroides (Mart.) Griseb.: Amaranthaceae), Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolia Raddi: Anacardiaceae), hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata (L. f.) Royle: Hydrocharitaceae), melaleuca (Melaleuca quinquenervia (Cav.) S.T. Blake: Myrtaceae), Old World climbing fern (Lygodium microphyllum (Cav.) R. Br.: Lygodiaceae), tropical soda apple (Solanum viarum Dunal: Solanaceae), waterhyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes (Mart.) Solms: Pontederiaceae), salvinia (Salvinia spp.: Salviniaceae) and waterlettuce (Pistia stratiotes L.: Araceae) (Table 1).

Various resources on Florida's weed biological control programs are available to county faculty. Extensive reviews have been published on the biological control programs of the aforementioned invasive weeds (Buckingham 1994, Center 1994, Van Driesche et al. 2002). Also, up-to-date information on Florida's weed biological control programs can be found on several websites: the aquatic weeds alligatorweed, hydrilla, waterhyacinth, waterlettuce (, air potato (, Brazilian peppertree (,, Cuda et al. 2019), melaleuca (, Old World climbing fern (, and tropical soda apple (,


Boughton, A. J. and R. W. Pemberton. 2011. Limited field establishment of a weed biocontrol agent, Floracarus perrepae (Acariformes: Eriophyidae), against Old World climbing fern in Florida–a possible role of mite resistant plant genotypes. Environmental Entomology 40: 1448–1457.

Buckingham, G. R. 1994. Biological control of aquatic weeds, pp. 413–480. In: D. Rosen, F. D. Bennett and J. L. Capinera (eds.). Pest management in the subtropics: biological control - a Florida perspective. Intercept, Andover, U.K.

Center, T. D. 1994. Biological control of weeds: waterhyacinth and waterlettuce, pp. 481–521. In: D. Rosen, F. D. Bennett and J. L. Capinera (eds.). Pest management in the subtropics: biological control - a Florida perspective. Intercept, Andover, U.K.

Center, T. D., K. Parys, M. Grodowitz, G. S. Wheeler, F. A. Dray, C. W. O' Brien, S. Johnson, and A. Cofrancesco. 2013. Evidence of establishment of Bagous hydrillae (Coleoptera: Curculionidae), a biological control agent of Hydrilla verticillata (Hydrocharitales: Hydrocharitaceae) in North America? Florida Entomologist 96: 180–186.

Cuda, J. P., A. P. Ferriter, V. Manrique and J. C. Medal (eds.) 2006. Interagency Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolius) management plan for Florida, 2nd edition: Recommendations from the Brazilian Peppertree Task Force, Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. South Florida Water Management District, West Palm Beach, Florida

Cuda, J. P., R. Charudattan, M. J. Grodowitz, R. M. Newman, J. F. Shearer, M. L. Tamayo, and B. Villegas. 2007. Recent advances in biological control of submersed aquatic weeds. Journal of Aquatic Plant Management 46: 15–32.

Cuda, J. P., S. F. Enloe, K. T. Gioeli, C. R. Minteer, and P. Prade. 2019. Brazilian peppertree management guide 2019. UF/IFAS Entomology and Nematology Department, Gainesville, FL. 32 pp.

Frank, J. H. and E. D. McCoy. 2007. The risk of classical biological control in Florida. Biological Control 41: 151–174.

FWC. 2018. Upland Invasive Exotic Plant Control Program Fiscal Year 2017-2018 Summary. Available online at (November 2019)

Julien, M. H. and M. W. Griffiths. 1998. Biological control of weeds: A world catalogue of agents and their target weeds, 4th edition. CAB International, Wallingford, UK.

Pimentel, D., R. Zuniga and D. Morrison. 2005. Update on the environmental and economic costs associated with alien-invasive species in the United States. Ecological Economics 52: 273–288.

Pimentel, D., L. Lach, R. Zuniga and D. Morrison. 2000. Environmental and economic costs of nonindigenous species in the United States. BioScience 50: 53–65.

Pimm, S. and M. Gilpin. 1989. Theoretical issues in conservation biology, pp. 287–305. In: R. Roughgarden, R. May and S. Leven (eds.), Perspectives in ecological theory. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Randall, J. 1996. Weed control for the preservation of biological diversity. Weed Technology 10: 370–38.

Rogers, L., M. Bodle, D. Black, and F. Laroche. 2011. Chapter 9: Status of nonindigenous species in the South Florida Environment, pp. 9–1 to 9–76. In 2011 South Florida Environmental Report, Vol. I-The South Florida Environment. South Florida Water Management District, West Palm Beach, FL. (November 2016)

Simberloff, D. 1997. The biology of invasions, pp. 3–18. In: D. Simberloff, D.C. Schmitz and T. C. Brown (eds.). Strangers in paradise: impact and management of nonindigenous species in Florida. Island Press, Washington, DC.

Van Driesche, R., S. Lyon, B. Blossey, M. Hoddle and R. Reardon (eds.). 2002. Biological control of invasive plants in the eastern United States, USDA Forest Service Publication FHTET-2002-04. USDA Forest Service, Morgantown, West Virginia, pp.311–321. (November 2016)

Williams, J.R. 1954. The biological control of weeds. In: Report of the Sixth Commonwealth Entomological Congress, London, 7–16 July 1954, pp. 95–98.


Table 1. 

Established arthropod biological control agents of invasive weeds in Florida. For higher classification and authors of scientific names of the natural enemies, see Julien and Griffiths (1998), Cuda et al. (2006, 2007), and Frank and McCoy (2007).


1. This document is ENY-853, one of a series of the Entomology and Nematology Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date September 2009. Revised December 2012, November 2013, November 2016, and November 2019. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.
2. J. P. Cuda, professor and Fulbright Scholar; and J. H. Frank, professor (retired); Entomology and Nematology Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Publication #ENY-853

Date: 11/18/2019

General Public


  • Carey Minteer
  • J. Frank