Rob is a research scientist in insect ecology and biological control with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Lethbridge, Canada. Prior to working with AAFC, Rob worked for the Canadian Forest Service on the biological control of invasive forest pests. Specific research interests include: host-plant insect interactions; population dynamics of biological control agents and their hosts; influence of habitat and climate on the impact and dispersal of invasive species and biocontrol agents; and risk assessment of biological control. He is currently Canadian lead for collaborative projects developing new biological control agents for several invasive plants, including knotweeds, phragmites, garlic mustard and swallowworts. He designed and implemented the operational biological control programme for invasive weeds in Alberta which is self-sustaining and has been running since 2001. As an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto, additional projects with collaborators and graduate students have included work on the ecology of invasive species and to estimate the impact and efficacy of established biocontrol agents.
Title: Keeping biocontrol in the weed management tool box
Canada has a long history of successful public-good research targeting the suppression of introduced invasive plants with arthropods as biological control agents. Over 80 insect species have been released for the suppression of more than 30 introduced invasive plant species since 1952, including recent notable successes with leafy spurge, diffuse knapweed, purple loosestrife, houndstongue and Dalmatian toadflax. The release and establishment of a biocontrol agent in Canada is the culmination of 10 to 15 years of cooperative work with international consortia that follows a seven-step process to: identify promising agents, conduct host-range testing for safety and impact, release and establish agents, and monitor spread and long-term impact. Hypena opulenta is a multivoltine, moth originating in Eastern Europe that was first released in Canada in 2013 for biocontrol of invasive swallow-wort, (also known as dog strangling vine). The insect is now established at early release sites on Vincetoxicum rossicum in Ontario and has spread at least 2 km from release locations. This insect will be used as an example to illustrate the seven-step process and the experiments required for establishment of biocontrol agents in Canada. We will also review the current list of invasive plants that are being targeted for biological control in Canada, and the potential new biocontrol agents that are under study.