Pacific Rim Research Program
Engineering enemy-free space: an invasive pest that kills its predators
- Author(s): Suttle, Kenwyn B.
- et al.
The biological invasion of the glassy-winged sharpshooter, Homalodisca coagulata, into French Polynesia presents a novel threat to Pacific Island ecosystems. Widely known as an agricultural pest because of its role as a vector of numerous lethal plant diseases, H. coagulata may pose a substantial and immediate risk to arthropod predators on invaded islands in French Polynesia. Controlled feeding experiments revealed that island spiders can be killed following predation on H. coagulata. Spider mortality appeared to result from lethal intoxication, although no form of chemical defense has been reported in H. coagulata. In the two spider species tested, approximately half of all individuals that attacked H. coagulata nymphs or adults died. As populations of this insect increase in size and range on invaded islands in French Polynesia, H. coagulata will increasingly encounter these and other arthropod predators, raising the possibility of population-level impacts on susceptible predator species. Field surveys of island spiders across nine sites on H. coagulata-invaded and H. coagulata-uninvaded islands suggest that this insect may already have adversely impacted an endemic spider on at least one island. Work is needed to identify the nature of the lethal agent harbored within H. coagulata and the taxonomic and geographic breadth of predators vulnerable to it. The generality of H. coagulata-lethality and the capacity of afflicted predator species for population-level adaptation or learned avoidance in response to this spreading pest will determine the magnitude of the threat H. coagulata poses in the South Pacific.