Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Biology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Keith Waddington - Committee Member

Second Committee Member

Donald DeAngelis - Committee Member

Third Committee Member

Carol C. Horvitz - Mentor

Fourth Committee Member

Steven Franks - Outside Committee Member

Fifth Committee Member

Paul D. Pratt - Outside Committee Member


The main goal of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of two biological control agents in reducing population growth and spread of the invasive tree Melaleuca quinquenervia, a subtropical tree native to Australia, and invasive in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas. While in Florida two insects Oxyops vitiosa (weevil), and Boreioglycaspis melaleucae (psyllid) have been established as biocontrol agents, in Puerto Rico only psyllids are present, and in the Bahamas no biocontrol agents are present. This study combined demographic data, experiments and mathematical models to investigate the influence of the biocontrol agents on M. quinquenervia's spatial population dynamics. In the field, permanent plots were established and demographic data was collected in populations in the native and exotic ranges. Australian populations are comprised mostly of tall adult trees, while in the exotic ranges populations are comprised mostly of short trees (<1.3m in height), and small adult trees. In a shade-house, I performed an experiment to investigate the effects of insect type and density on survival and growth of M. quinquenervia seedlings. I found that high density of insects, independently or in combination, reduce seedling performance, thus having the potential to alter the seedling-short plant transition of the M. quinquenervia life cycle. Based on the demographic data, I developed integral projection models (IPMs) to determine population growth rates in each region. Populations in Australia and the Bahamas are increasing, while populations in Florida and Puerto Rico are decreasing. Population growth is most sensitive to the seedling-short plant transition in all regions, except Florida, where it is most sensitive to survival of tall plants. Simulations combining the results of the IMPs and experiment indicated the biocontrol damage results in reductions in population growth rate in Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. Seed dispersal and demographic data was combined to develop an integrodifference structured model of population spread. Simulations indicated that by reducing seedling performance, insects have the potential to reduce the rate of population spread. Overall this study shows that individual-level effects of biocontrol agents have translated into reductions in population growth rate and rate of spread of M. quinquenervia.


Size Structure; Soil Type; Insect Density; Sensitivity; Dispersal Kernel; Elasticity Analysis; Wind Dispersed Seeds; Geographic Comparisons; Neubert-Caswell Models; Integral Projection Models; Trees; Invasive Species