Recent theoretical work suggests that two ineffective control agents can provide effective biological control when coupled together. We explore the implications of this work with the system of coffee leaf rust (CLR), caused by the fungal agent Hemileiae vastatrix, and two of its natural enemies, a fungal pathogen (Lecanicillium lecanii) and a spore predator (Mycodiplosis hemileiae). Here we report on comparative surveys of the CLR and its two natural enemies in Mexico, where the CLR has been at epidemic status since 2012, and Puerto Rico, where the CLR is present but has not reached epidemic densities. We found that the densities of the two control agents per CLR lesion is higher in Puerto Rico than in Mexico, and we hypothesize that their joint presence at higher densities is contributing to the suppression of the CLR in Puerto Rico but not in Mexico. Furthermore, we found that the presence of Azteca sericeasur, a keystone ant species that occurs in Mexico but not Puerto Rico, significantly reduces the prevalence of M. hemileiae on coffee plants. Our work provides data that allows us to hypothesize that the joint presence of these two control agents may potentially provide control of the CLR and also highlights the importance of regionally specific communities within agroecosystems, and how variation in community composition may lead to varying outcomes for biological control. Additionally, this is the first report of the presence of a potentially important biological control agent, M. hemileiae, in Latin America and the Caribbean.
- Autonomous biological control
- Coffee leaf rust
- Community assembly
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Insect Science