A 'Goldilocks' hypothesis for dispersal of biological control agents

George E. Heimpel, Mark K. Asplen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


The rate at which biological control agents disperse from release sites has important implications for their establishment and spread. Low rates of dispersal can yield spread that is too slow and may necessitate redistribution efforts for importation biological control and a high density of release sites for augmentation. Low dispersal rates may also lead to inbreeding at the site of release. On the other hand, high rates of dispersal can lead to Allee effects at the leading edge of the invasion front, potentially reducing the likelihood of establishment. Given these disadvantages associated with both low and high dispersal rates, we argue that intermediate rates of dispersal are likely to maximize the probability of establishment and appropriate spread for biological control agents released in the context of either importation or augmentative biological control. We consider this putative relationship a 'Goldilocks hypothesis' since it posits an optimum at intermediate values. In this review paper we begin by discussing the rationale for the Goldilocks hypothesis and then provide a case study from our work on importation biological control of the soybean aphid, Aphis glycines. Work on the soybean aphid parasitoid Binodoxys communis has shown that long-distance dispersal of immature parasitoids within winged migrating aphids is unlikely. This is likely good news for importation biological control because parasitoids dispersed in this manner would likely encounter crippling Allee effects. On the other hand, results from a field release study also suggest that female B. communis females (but not males) disperse actively from release sites. This female-biased dispersal may lead to strong mate-finding Allee effects and therefore may make establishment less likely.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)441-450
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2011


  • Allee effect
  • Aphis glycines
  • Binodoxys communis
  • Biological control
  • Dispersal
  • Goldilocks
  • Soybean aphid


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