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Biocontrol and Applied Entomology Lab

We use insects for biological control of alien weeds and dung. Biocontrol research includes finding new agents and doing host specificty trials, post-release evaluation of agents; modelling of agents and weed population; phylogeography of weeds and hyperspectral imagery for assessment of agent impacts. Using dung beetles we explore the biology of these insects as model animals which can be used to test ideas in orientation, sexual selection and growth. Research activities are split between field based experiments/evaluations and on-site experiments which are mainly done in the new Wits Insectary and Quarantine Facility

Lab Members

Lab Coordinator

Prof. Marcus Byrne

Prof Marcus Byrne

I am a zoologist who works on biological control of alien plants. This technique uses one organism (mainly insects) to control populations of alien weeds. South Africa is one of the world leaders in this applied science. I also work on the behaviour and physiology of dung beetles, investigating how they find their way around, and other behaviours related to their orientation. This reveals how simple brains solve complex problems.



Postdoctoral Fellows

Dr Danica Marlin

My current research examines the interactions between Tamarisk beetles (Diorhabda spp.) and the Tamarix trees/shrubs that occur in South Africa. This research will form part of a biological control programme of invasive alien Tamarix spp. (T. chinensis and T. ramossisima) in this country [Year started: 2014].

Dr Solomon Nwete

I have a background in agriculture, but my research interests are mainly on invasive alien plants and their management with a particular focus on biological control of weeds using insects and restoration of contaminated water and soil environment using plants as a tool of phytoremediation. I have done work on the potential of hyperspectral remote sensing as a tool of monitoring contaminants in plants and I have an interest to further my research to acquire an in-depth knowledge on this field [Year started: 2014].

Dr Christopher Woolley

Research interests: dispersal and distribution of natural enemies in agricultural systems, spider conservation, comparative morphology of dung beetles. Microbiota present within the guts of dung beetles (Scarabaeinae: Scarabaeidae) have long beenthought to actively assist in the digestive process, provide additional nutrition by further breakdown and modification of dung constituents. The presence of symbiotic microbes is sometimesassociated with specialised structures (diverticula, ampulla) where microbes reside and inoculatethe lumen contents. The present study aims to determine the occurrence and form of these structures in representative species from the nine tribes found in South Africa [Year started: 2014]. 

PhD Students

Ms Kendall Hauptfleisch

I am working towards building a model that can be used to evaluate and predict populations of water hyacinth and one of its biocontrol agents, Neochetina eichhorniae. This model will eventually be used to inform water hyacinth management decisions, particularly in areas where biological control has not been as successful [Upgraded from MSc: 2015].

Hyacinth pools

Mr Naweji Katembo 

My research aim is to measure the effectiveness of all established Lantana biocontrol agents onLantana plant growth and reproduction in the Lowveld area of Mpumalanga. An earlier study quantified the impact of an ‘old’ suite of biocontrol agents on the growth and reproduction of a Lantana variety on the coast. Since that time, several ‘new’ agents have been introduced; studies have assessed their efficacy under laboratory and semi-field conditions; however, laboratory results may not always accurately predict performance in the field. The current study will, for the first time, quantify the combined impact of the ‘old plus new’ suite of biocontrol agents, on the growth, reproduction andbiomass of Lantana in the field. Experimental manipulations will also determine the effect of some biotic and abiotic factors on agent performance [Year started: 2012].

Mr Kudakwashe Musengi

Kuda's research interests lie in the biological control of Opuntia species using cochineal insects [Year start: 2015].

Mr Archbold Sasa

Research interests: biological control, restoration and conservation ecology and plant-insect interactions [Year started: 2012]. 

MSc Students

Mr Tristan Abels

I am currently conducting a post-release survey of the biological control agent Zygogramma bicolorata on the invasive alien weed Parthenium hysterophorus (famine weed). Particular attention is being paid to the effect that the beetle has on famine weed and the prevalence and dispersal ability that the beetle has achieved in South Africa [Year started: 2015].  

Mr Blair Cowie

I'm currently involved with research on the ecology of the invasive shrub Parthenium hysterophorus," Famine Weed", and its specific biological control agents, namely Zygogramma bicolorata and Listronotus setosipennis. Particular research focus surrounds Parthenium's invasive potential, including modeled distributions and seed bank analyses, as well as the biocontrol agents' physiology, efficacy and potential spread in South Africa [Year started: 2015].

Mr McPhee Madzivhe

I am interested in insect feeding, insects reproductive behaviour and insect diversity analysis. Current research includes the manipulation of nutrients during feeding and nesting biology by dung beetles [Year started: 2014].

Mrs Jeanne d'Arc Mukarugwiro

I am working on the development and feeding of Neochetina eichhorniae larvae (water hyacinth weevil) under different nutrient regimes [By coursework, year started: 2014] 

Ms Sumeshi Pillay

My current research involves me looking at mopane caterpillars (Imbrasia belina) collected on and around a mine in Phalaborwa. I am measuring the elemental concentrations of the caterpillars and their main food source, the mopane tree (Colophospermum mopane), to assess if the caterpillars are taking up excess elements made available by the mine's activities. I am also trying to assess if these concentrations differ with different sources and degrees of contamination. Another aspect I am looking at is isotopic compositions of the mopane caterpillars and the mopane leaves, specifically carbon and nitrogen isotopes, to see if these differ with different sources of contamination. Lastly I am measuring mopane caterpillar headwidth and mandibular wear, which can be used as tools to age caterpillars to instar and within instar respectively [Year started: 2013, currently under examination].

Mr Ettiene Smit

My research involves field host specificity testing of Diorhabda beetles on Tamarix in Colorado, USA, with the goal of biologically controlling South Africa's invasive Tamarix, and leaving T. usneoides unharmed. The two invasive Tamarix species in South Africa T. ramosissima and T. chinensis take up large amounts of water, clog waterways, and create monospecific stands. A successful biological control programme has been implemented against invasive Tamarix in the USA [Year started: 2014].  

Mr Giuseppe Venturi

My current research entails investigation of metabolism, temperature responses and feeding damage of the biological control agent, Cornops aquaticum. Further understanding of C. aquaticum physiology may assist in the identification of establishment problems and improved management protocols [Year started: 2014]. 

Honours Students

Mr Sanele Mtetwa 

I am interested in determining the physiological responses of invasive Tamarix species in response to insect herbivory. In addition to this I am ineterested in determining growth rates of Tamarix hybrid species [Year started: 2015].

Last Update 18 May 2015

Resources: XIV International Symposium on the Biological Control of WeedsBiocontrol Symposium


Alien Weeds coverAlien Weeds and Invasive Plants: A complete guide to declared weeds and invaders in South Africa Author: Lesley Henderson. 

Out of print book - Size 19Mb PDF (compressed from 262Mb - uncompressed version available upon request:




Water hyacinth lesson plans (word doc.)
Water Hyacinth Information Booklet   Lesson Plan 1 Grade 11   Lesson Plan 2 Grade 11
Biocontrol of water hyacinth - weevil        
Weed and Agent Portfolios (word doc.) 
Biocontrol of Black wattle - gall midge   Biocontrol of black wattle- weevils    Biocontrol of Cat's Claw Creeper - Lace bugs
Biocontrol of chain cactus - scale insects   Biocontrol of Chromolaena odorata - shoot moth    Biocontrol of Golden Wattle - gall wasp
Biocontrol of pompom - rust fungus    Biocontrol of Port Jackson willow - gall fungus   Biocontrol of Satansbos - leaf beetle
Biocontrol of sesbania - three beetles   Biocontrol of silky hakea - stem boring beetle   Biocontrol of Sour Prickly Pear moth & scale insect


Biocontrol Lab Publications

  1. Du Plessis, H., Byrne, M., and Van Den Berg, J. 2015. The Effect of Different Host Plants on Development and Survival of Nysius natalensis (Hemiptera: Orsillidae). Environmental Entomology 44, 122–127. doi: 10.1093/ee/nvu009

  2. Mayonde, S.G. , Cron, G.V., Gaskin, J.F., and Byrne, M.J. (2014) Evidence of Tamarix hybrids in South Africa, as inferred by nuclear ITS and plastid trnS-trnG DNA sequences. South African Journal of Botany 96, 122–131.

  3. Gitonga, L. Cron, G.V., McConnachie, A., Byrne, M. 2014. Genetic variation of the invasive pompom weed (Campuloclinium macrocephalum, Asteraceae) in South Africa, inferred from molecular markers. Weed Research. DOI: 10.1111/wre.12122

  4. Newete, S. W., Erasmus, B.F.N., Weiersbye, I. M., and Byrne, M. J. 2014. The effect of water pollution on biological control of water hyacinth. Biological Control 79, 101-109.

  5. Mugwedi, L.F., Goodall, J., Witkowski , E.T.F., & Byrne, M.J. 2014. The role of reproduction in Glyceria maxima invasion, African Journal of Range & Forage Science, DOI: 10.2989/10220119.2014.929177

  6. el Jundi, B., Smolka, J., Baird, E., Byrne, M.J., Dacke, M. 2014. Diurnal dung beetles use the intensity gradient and the polarization pattern of the sky for orientation. The Journal of experimental biology, 217:2422-2429. doi:10.1242/jeb.101154.

  7. Dacke, M, el Jundi, B., Smolka, J., Byrne, M.J., Baird, E. 2014. The role of the sun in the celestial compass of dung beetles. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 369, 20130036. doi:10.1098/rstb.2013.0036

  8. Newete, S. W., Erasmus, B.F.N., Weiersbye, I. M., Cho, M.A. and Byrne, M. J. 2014. Hyperspectral reflectance features of water hyacinth growing under feeding stresses of Neochetina spp. and different heavy metal pollutants. International Journal of Remote Sensing 35 (3), 799-817.

  9. Marlin, D., Hill, M.P. and Byrne, M.J. 2013. Interactions within pairs of biological control agents on water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes. Biological Control. 67 (3), 548-554.

  10. Bownes, A, Hill, M.P. & Byrne, M.J. 2013. The role of nutrients in the responses of water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes (Pontederiaceae) to herbivory by a grasshopper Cornops aquaticum Bruner (Orthoptera: Acrididae). Biological Control.67 (3), 555-562.

  11. Bownes, A, Hill, M.P. & Byrne, M.J. 2013. Nutrient-mediated effects on Cornops aquaticum (Orthoptera: Acrididae), a potential biological control agent of water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes (Pontederiaceae) in South Africa. Biological Control. 67 (3), 548-554.

  12. Hull, R., Alaouna, M., Khanyile, L., Byrne, M., & Ntwasa, M. 2013. Lifestyle and host defense mechanisms of the dung beetle, Euoniticellus intermedius: The Toll signaling pathway. Journal of Insect Science: Vol. 13 (108), 1-25. DOI:

  13. du Plessis, H., Byrne, M.J. van den Berg, J. 2013. Notes on the biology of Nysius natalensis Evans (Hemiptera: Orsillidae). African Journal of Agricultural Research 8 (35), 4484-4489.

  14. Katembo, N., Hill, M.P. & Byrne, M.J. 2013. Impacts of a sub-lethal dose of glyphosate on water hyacinth nutrients and its indirect effects on Neochetina weevils. Biocontrol Science and Technology, 23, 1412-1426. DOI:10.1080/09583157.2013.839982

  15. Smolka J., Byrne M., Scholtz C. & Dacke M. 2013. The galloping dung beetle: A new gait in insects. Current  Biology, 23(20), R913-915.

  16. Byrne, M. J., Watkins, B., and Bouwer, G. 2013. Do dung beetle larvae need microbial symbionts from their parents to feed on dung? Ecological Entomology, 38, 250–257. DOI: 10.1111/een.12011.

  17. Dacke, M., Baird, E., Byrne, M., Scholtz, C.H. and Warrant E.J. 2013. Dung Beetles Use the Milky Way for Orientation. Current Biology 23, 1–3. 12.034.

  18. Reynolds, C. and Byrne, M.J. 2013. Alternate Reproductive Tactics in an African Dung Beetle, Circellium bacchus (Scarabeidae). Journal of Insect Behaviour. 26, 440-452. DOI 10.1007/s10905-012-9365-1.

  19. Dacke, M., Byrne, M.J., Smolka, J., Warrant, E.J. and Baird, E. 2013. Dung beetles ignore landmarks for straight-line orientation. Journal of Comparative Physiology A. 199, 17-23. DOI 10.1007/s00359-012-0764-8.

  20. Marlin, D., Hill, M.P., Ripley, B.S., Strauss, A.J. and Byrne, M.J. 2013. The effect of herbivory by the mite Orthogalumna terebrantis on the growth and photosynthetic performance of water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes). Aquatic Botany. 104. 60–69.

  21. Smolka, J., Baird, E., Byrne, M.J., Warrant, E.J., el Jundi, B. and Dacke, M. 2012. Dung beetles use their dung ball as a mobile thermal refuge. Current Biology. 22, R863-864.

  22. du Plessis, H., Byrne, M.J. and  van den Berg, J. 2012. The effect of different host plants on the reproduction and longevity of Nysius natalensis. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata. 145, 209-214. DOI: 10.1111/eea.12001.

  23. Buccellato L., Byrne, M.J. and Witkowski, E.T.F. 2012. Interactions between a stem gall fly and a leaf-spot pathogen in the biological control of Ageratina adenophora. Biological Control. 61. 222–229.

  24. Baird, E., Byrne, M.J., Smolka, J., Warrant, E.J., Dacke, M. 2012. The Dung Beetle Dance: An Orientation Behaviour? PLoS ONE. 7 (1): e30211. doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0030211

  25. Byrne M.J., Witkowski E.T.F., & Kalibbala F.N. 2011. A Review of Recent Efforts at Biological control of Caesalpinia decapetala  (Roth) Alston (Fabaceae) in South Africa. African Entomology. 19. 247–257.

  26. du Plessis, H.,  Byrne, M.J., & van den Berg, J. 2011. The effect of temperature on Nysius natalensis Evans (Hemiptera: Orsillidae) development and survival. African Entomology 19: 709–716.

  27. Coetzee, J.A., Hill, M.P., Byrne, M.J. & Bownes, A. 2011. A review of the biological control programmes on Eichhornia crassipes (C. Mart.) Solms (Pontederiacaeae), Salvinia molesta D.S. Mitch. (Salviniaceae), Pistia stratiotes L. (Araceae), Myriophyllum aquaticum (Vell.) Verdc. (Haloragaceae) and Azolla filiculoides Lam. (Azollaceae) in South Africa since 1999. African Entomology. 19. 451–468.

  28. King, A.M., Brudvig, R. & Byrne, M.J. 2011. Biological control of dense-thorned bitter apple, Solanum sisymbriifolium Lamarck (Solanaceae) in South Africa. African Entomology. 19. 427–433.

  29. Newete, S.W., Oberprieler, R.G. & Byrne, M.J. 2011. The host range of the eucalyptus weevil, Gonipterus “scutellatus” Gyllenhal (Coleoptera: Curculionidae), in South Africa. Annals of Forest Science. 68. 1005-1013. DOI 10.1007/s13595-011-0108-9

  30. Dacke, M., Byrne, M. J., Baird, E., Scholtz, C.H. and Warrant E.J. 2011. How dim is dim? Precision of the celestial compass in moonlight and sunlight. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B. 366. 697-702.

  31. Bownes, A., Hill, M. P., and Byrne. M. J. 2010. Assessing density–damage relationships between water hyacinth and its grasshopper herbivore. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata. 137.  246–254. DOI: 10.1111/j.1570-7458.2010.01061.x

  32. Baird, E., Byrne, M. J., Scholtz, C.H., Warrant E.J. and Dacke, M. 2010. Bearing selection in ball-rolling dung beetles: is it constant? Journal of Comparative Physiology A. 196. 801-806. DOI 10.1007/s00359-010-0559-8

  33. Bownes, A., Hill, M.P., & Byrne, M.J. 2010. Evaluating the impact of herbivory by a grasshopper, Cornops aquaticum (Orthoptera: Acrididae), on the competitive performance and biomass accumulation of water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes (Pontederiaceae). Biological Control. 53. 297–303.

  34. Kvedaras, O.L., Byrne, M.J., Coombes, N.E., & Keeping, M.G. 2009. Influence of plant silicon and sugarcane cultivar on mandibular wear in the stalk borer Eldana saccharina. Agricultural and Forest Entomology 11, 301–306. DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-9563.2009.00430.x

  35. Coetzee, J.A., Byrne, M.J, &. Hill., M.P. 2009. Should the mirid Eccritotarsus catarinensis, (Heteroptera : Miridae) be considered for release against water hyacinth in the United States of America . Biocontrol Science and Technology, 19: 103-111.

  36. Ajuonu, O. · Byrne, M. Hill, M. · Neuenschwander, P. · and Korie,  S. 2009. The effect of two biological control agents, the weevil Neochetina eichhorniae and the mirid Eccritotarsus catarinensis on water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes, grown in culture with waterlettuce, Pistia stratiotes. BioControl, 54: 155-162. DOI:10.1007/s10526-008-9185-6.

  37. Jadhav, A., Hill, M., and Byrne, M. 2008. Identification of a retardant dose of glyphosate with potential for integrated control of water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes (Mart.) Solms-Laubach. Biological Control.  47:154–158.

  38. Coetzee, J.A., Byrne, M.J, &. Hill., M.P. 2007. Predicting the distribution of Eccritotarsus catarinensis, a natural enemy released on water hyacinth in South Africa. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 125: 237–247. DOI: 10.1111/j.1570-7458.2007.00622.x

  39. du Plessis, H., Byrne, M.J., & van den Berg, J. 2007. Distribution and host plant range of Nysius natalensis Evans (Hemiptera: Orsillidae) in the sunflower production area of South Africa. African Entomology 15: 310–318.

  40. Kvedaras O.L., Keeping M.G., Goebel R. & Byrne M. 2007 Larval performance of the pyralid borer Eldana saccharina Walker and stalk damage in sugarcane: Influence of plant silicon, cultivar and feeding site. International Journal of Pest Management. 53. 1-12.

  41. Nadel, R.L., Scholes, M.C., Byrne, M.J. 2007. Slash burning, faunal composition and their effects on nutrient dynamics in an Eucalyptus grandis plantation in South Africa. Canadian Journal of Forestry Research. 37: 226–235.

  42. Ajuonu, O., Byrne, M., Hill, M., Neuenschwander, P., and Korie, S. 2007. Survival of the mirid Eccritotarsus catarinensis as influenced by Neochetina eichhorniae and Neochetina bruchi feeding scars on leaves of water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes.  BioControl. 52, 193-200.

  43. Kvedaras O.L., Keeping M.G., Goebel F-R & Byrne M.J. 2007. Water stress augments silicon-mediated resistance of susceptible sugarcane cultivars to the stalk borer, Eldana saccharina Walker (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae). Bulletin of Entomological Research. 97. 1-9.

  44. Coetzee, J.A., Byrne, M. J., Hill. M. P., 2007. Impact of nutrients and herbivory by Eccritotarsus catarinensis on the biological control of water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes. Aquatic Botany. 86. 179-186.

  45. Duncan, F. D., & Byrne, M.J. 2005.  The role of the mesothoracic spiracles in respiration in flighted and flightless dung beetles. Journal of Experimental Biology. 208. 907-914.

  46. Coetzee J.A., Center, T.D., Byrne, M.J. & Hill, M.P.  2005. The impact of the biocontrol agent Eccritotarsus catarinensis, a sap-feeding mirid, on the competitive performance of water hyacinth . Biological Control. 32. 90-96.

  47. du Plessis, H., Byrne, M.J., and van den Berg, J. 2005. Chemical control of Nysius natalensis Evans (Hemiptera: Orsillidae), a pest of sunflower in South Africa. The South African Journal of Plant Soil. 22. 94-99.

  48. Haywood L.K., Alexander,G.J., Byrne, M.J. & Cukrowska, E. 2004.  Xenopus laevis embryos and tadpoles as models for testing for pollution by zinc, copper, lead and cadmium. African Zoology. 39. 163-174.

  49. Dacke, M., Byrne, M.J., Scholtz, C. H., & Warrant, E. J.  2004. Lunar orientation in a beetle. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. 271. 361–365.

  50. McConnachie, A.J., Hill. M.P., and Byrne, M.J. 2004.  Field assessment of a frond-feeding weevil, a successful biological control agent of red waterfern, Azolla filiculoides Lamarck (Azollaceae), in southern Africa. Biological Control. 29. 326-331.

  51. Coetzee, J., Byrne, M., and Hill, M. 2003.  Failure of Eccritotarsus catarinensis, a biological control agent of water hyacinth, to persist on pickerelweed, a non-target host in South Africa, after forced establishment. Biological Control. 28. 229-236.

  52. McConnachie, A.J., de Wit, M.P., Hill. M.P., and Byrne, M.J. 2003.  Economic evaluation of the successful biological control of Azolla filiculoides in South Africa. Biological Control. 28. 25-32.

  53. Dacke, M., Nilsson, D. -E., Scholtz, C. H., Byrne, M. J., & Warrant, E. J. 2003.  Insect orientation to polarized moonlight. Nature. 424, (1) 33-33.

  54. Byrne, M.J. Dacke, M., Nordström, P. Scholtz. C., and Warrant, E. 2003.  Visual cues used by ball-rolling dung beetles for orientation. Journal of Comparative Physiology, A. 189, (6) 411-418.

  55. Byrne, M.J. & Duncan F.D. 2003.  The role of the subelytral spiracles in respiration in the flightless dung beetle, Circellium bacchus. Journal of Experimental Biology. 206, (8) 1309-1318.

  56. Byrne M.J., Currin, S., & Hill, M.P. 2002.  The influence of climate on the establishment and success of the biocontrol agent, Gratiana spadicea released on Solanum sisymbriifolium in South Africa. Biological Control. 24, (2) 128-134.

  57. Duncan, F. D., & Byrne, M.J. 2002.  Respiratory Airflow in a wingless dung beetle. Journal of Experimental Biology. 205, (16). 2489-2497.

  58. Duncan, F. D., & Byrne, M.J. 2000.  Discontinuous gas exchange in dung beetles: patterns and ecological implications. Oecologia, 122, (4). 452 - 458

  59. Crump, C., Byrne, M.J. & Croucamp, W. 2000.  A South African interactive arthropod exhibition.  Journal of Biological Education. 35, (1). 12 - 16.

  60. Sherwill, T., Byrne, M.J. & van den Berg, J.1999.  Shoot fly species on sorghum in the Mpumalanga sub-tropics of South Africa: relative abundance and infestation levels. African Plant Protection. 5, (1). 31 - 35.

  61. Byrne M.J. 1993.  The immature stages of Philonthus sanamus Tottenham, (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae).  African Entomology. 1. 229-234.