Brazilian Peppertree: Introduction
Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolius Raddi (Anacardiaceae)) is an introduced perennial plant that has become widely established throughout central and south Florida. It is native to Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, and was brought to Florida as an ornamental in the 1840s. The invasion and displacement of native species by Brazilian peppertree poses a serious threat to biodiversity in many ecosystems of Florida. It is found mainly in disturbed sites such as highway rights-of-way, canals, fallow farmlands, but it also invades natural communities including pinelands, hardwood hammocks, and mangrove forests. Several attributes of this plant contribute to its invasiveness, including a large number of fruits produced per female plant, an effective mechanism of dispersal by birds, tolerance to shade, fire, and drought, allelopathic effects on neighboring plants, and tolerance to saline conditions.
Brazilian peppertree has been recognized as a target for classical biological control since the 1980s. Several phytophagous insects are currently under investigation including 1) Pseudophilothrips ichini Hood (Thysanoptera: Phlaeothripidae) and three species in the genus Calophya (Hemiptera: Calophyidae); C. latiforceps, C. terebinthifolii and an undescribed species. A petition for release of P. ichini was jointy submitted to the Technical Advisory Group for Biological Control Agents of Weeds by UF/IFAS and USDA/ARS in August 2014, and a petition for release of C. latiforceps was submitted by UF/IFAS in April 2015.
Long-term field plots of Brazilian peppertree were established in Fort Piece and Immokalee in November 2014. One-half of the plants at each site are protected by insecticide and the other half are unprotected. We are monitoring the performance of these plants prior to the release of biological control agents and then will continue to monitor the plants after agents have been released to estimate impact.
- A greenhouse study on the combined effects of two agents that have been petitioned for release, P. ichini and C. latiforceps, on Brazilian peppertree.
- A study to determine whether feeding by psyllids and thrips induces resistance in Brazilian peppertrees.
- Investigate the spatial variation in plant defense against herbivores.
- Conduct host range testing with Calophya terebinthifolii and an undescribed Calophya sp.
- Genetics diversity of Brazilian peppertree: In collaboration with Dr. Williams (Texas Christian University, TX), the laboratory investigated the genetic diversity of Brazilian pepper in Florida and South American.
- Studies of the biology and host range of Paectes longiformis, Pseudophilothrips ichini and Calophya latiforceps.