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Biological control in invasive species management: experiences and lessons of using ISPM 3

Moses Kairo, Matthew J.W. Cock and Mary Megan Quinlan

M. Kairo: CAB International, Caribbean and Latin American Regional Centre, Gordon Street, Curepe, Trinidad and Tobago; e-mail:; M. Cock: CABI Bioscience Switzerland Centre, Rue des Grillons 1, CH-2800 Delémont, Switzerland; M.M. Quinlan, Associate, CABI Bioscience UK Centre, Silwood Park, Buckhurst Road, Ascot, Berkshire, SL5 7TA, United Kingdom.


Classical biological control is one of the important tools for the management of invasive species. This involves the introduction and release of natural enemies, usually from the invaders’ area of origin. During the past decade, increasing concerns have been raised about the potential negative impact of introduced biological control agents on non-target organisms. This has highlighted the need to examine and guide the process of importation and release of natural enemies. The third international standard for phytosanitary measures, ISPM 3: Code of conduct for the import and release of exotic biological control agents, is specifically concerned with this process. ISPM 3 was endorsed by members of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1995. This paper explores the experiences and lessons gained during the implementation of ISPM 3 since its endorsement and the implications for the future management of invasive species.


There is a growing demand and need for biological control across the globe. This has been fuelled not only by the increasing spate of invasive species but also by the need to develop integrated pest management approaches as well as the increased interest in organic production. Classical biological control of arthropod pests and weeds has been carried out successfully for more than a century (Greathead and Greathead, 1992; Julien and Griffiths, 1998). However, over the years, practitioners have become increasingly aware that introduced biological control agents may have undesirable side-effects (Thomas and Willis, 1998; Howarth, 2000; Follet and Duan, 2000; Lynch and Thomas, 2000; Wajnberg, Scott and Quimby, 2000; Henneman and Memmott, 2001). Initially, this concern was limited to the possible impact of these introduced agents on economically important plants and insects (notably, honey bees, silk moths and weed biological control agents). More recently, increased environmental awareness has drawn attention to the potential danger to all indigenous fauna and flora, particularly rare and endangered species.

To address these concerns, a code of conduct for the import and release of exotic biological control agents was developed with a view to fostering safe importation and release of biological control agents (Greathead, 1997). It was developed over a period of six years and was finally endorsed by FAO member countries at the end of 1995. The code of conduct, the third in a series of international standards for phytosanitary measures developed by the International Plant Protection Convention, was formally published in 1996 as ISPM 3: Code of conduct for the import and release of exotic biological control agents and is available, with other ISPMs, at Like other ISPMs, it was due for review after five years. This paper summarizes an assessment of the use of ISPM 3 since its endorsement as an international standard. It is anticipated that this information will be relevant to further development of the standard and its use. A detailed account of the results of this assessment is given by Kairo, Cock and Quinlan (2003).

Main provisions of ISPM 3

ISPM 3 is intended to facilitate the safe importation of exotic biological control agents capable of self-replication (parasitoids, predators, parasites, phytophagous arthropods and pathogens) for research and/or release into the environment, including those packaged or formulated as commercial products. It does this by listing the responsibilities of government authorities, exporters, importers and other bodies involved in meeting the objectives of ISPM 3. Further, it is suggested that governments already fulfilling the objectives of ISPM 3 may consider adapting existing systems on the basis of the international standard. ISPM 3 is accompanied by a bibliography and a list of definitions and is available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French and Spanish.

The key recommendations from the guidelines are:

Approach to assessing use of ISPM 3

In assessment of the use of the guidelines contained in ISPM 3 since its endorsement, preparation of a dossier is perhaps the easiest aspect to document and assess retroactively. An evaluation was conducted of the use of dossiers for natural enemy introductions made since 1996; this assessment was based on published reports, the authors’ knowledge and specific enquiries to national programmes.

Additionally, a survey was carried out to assess general aspects of use of ISPM 3 in developing countries that did not have a long history of independently mounting biological control projects prior to its endorsement. Countries included in the survey were those that had made introductions of natural enemies during the period since 1996. A questionnaire was developed covering various aspects of the use of ISPM 3. Of the 25 countries included in the survey, 17 sent responses to the questionnaire (see box).

Countries responding to the formal questionnaire surveying use of ISPM 3

Antigua and Barbuda









St Lucia


Trinidad and Tobago






After Kairo, Cock and Quinlan (2003).

Key findings

A total of 104 introductions made since 1996 in 42 countries or territories was considered in the study. This comprised 28 pests targeted using 43 natural enemy species. Dossiers or environmental assessments were prepared in support of at least 75 introductions. In five introductions no dossiers were prepared, while in the remaining 22 introductions, it was not ascertained what process was used. Of the 42 countries/territories included in the study, at least 30 used dossiers or environmental assessments.

A majority of the countries (82 percent) were aware of ISPM 3. In cases where it was not used, there were other procedures in place or there was no designated national authority. In the latter case, there was also no national legislation. Most of the countries also followed the provisions of ISPM 3 either partially or completely (76 percent). Most of the introductions were carried out by government agencies (48 percent) or regional or international organizations (48 percent). However, most countries indicated that, in general, knowledge of ISPM 3 among relevant national agencies and other stakeholders in biological control was limited (15 percent) or poor (65 percent).

Most of the countries surveyed had some legislation governing importation and release of biological control agents. For those without any legislation or where this was inadequate, ISPM 3 was seen as a useful guideline in development of legislation. In terms of overall impact, ISPM 3 had made introductions more rigorous (46 percent) or more lengthy and time consuming (27 percent). However, less than 7 percent of the respondents felt it had made introductions more difficult. Indeed, 20 percent felt that it had made introductions easier.

For most countries, the major constraint identified was lack of technical capacity (41 percent). Other reasons cited included: lack of practical guidelines (6 percent), lack of interest from or champions within the responsible authority (6 percent), or the lack of a responsible authority as stipulated in ISPM 3 (6 percent). However, many countries (47 percent) do not have quarantine facilities which are essential during the introductory process.

Generally, use of ISPM 3 had the potential to delay implementation of biological control projects. Additionally, scant resources limited the kinds of studies that could be conducted. In many countries there was a lack of competent authorities who could review dossiers. In general, dossiers provided little information on remedial action after agents are released. Also, scant resources meant that many releases lacked adequate follow-up.

Conclusions on the use of ISPM 3

Developing countries that have recently started to use biological control or those with an opportunity to use biological control have benefited the most from ISPM 3. Until ISPM 3 was prepared, there was little guidance available to these countries and none carrying the international authority that is embodied in ISPM 3. It is therefore concluded that production and dissemination of ISPM 3 was timely and appropriate and it ensures that environmental issues are raised. ISPM 3 also provided a mechanism for formalizing good practice and set standards for information requirements for decision-making within an internationally recognized frame. It also provided a mechanism for facilitation of regional collaboration.

Clearly, there is an urgent need to address some of the key constraints, in particular, the lack of capacity, the lack of technical guidelines and the absence of national mechanisms for implementation of the standard. The proposed revision of ISPM 3 is timely, taking into account the growing need for biological control. Within the framework of invasive species, biological control offers a very useful tool for management. ISPM 3 ensures that this tool can be used safely and that the risks of undesirable effects are minimized.

(Note that, since the preparation of this paper, ISPM 3 has undergone draft revision and has been sent to contracting parties to the IPPC for country consultation in 2004 under the title "Guidelines for the export, shipment, import and release of biological control agents and beneficial organisms".)


This study was supported under the Agrobiodiversity Theme of the FAO/Netherlands Partnership Programme and through a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) to CABI Bioscience for increased participation in WTO standard-setting. We wish to thank various people who responded to requests for information: A Sakala, A.E. Bustillo, A.T. Daudi, C. Persad, C.J. Kedera, D. Domminique, E.H. Kapeya, E.M. Mussonda, F. Anzueto, F.J. Tambasco, G. Mathurin, H.C. Arredondo, J.G. Francis, J.O. Diaz, L. Munroe, M. Odong, M. Sherwood, O. Sosa and R.D. Gautam. The opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors or the respondents to the survey and do not necessarily reflect policy or opinions of FAO, the RBF, CABI Bioscience or the individual countries.

References and further information

Follett, P.A. & Duan, J.J., eds. 2000. Nontarget effects of biological control. Norwell, Massachusetts, USA, Kluwer. 316 pp.

Greathead, D.J. 1997. An introduction to the FAO Code of Conduct for the Import and Release of Exotic Biological Control Agents. Biocontrol News and Information, 18: 117N - 118N (available at

Greathead, D.J. & Greathead, A.H. 1992. Biological control of insect pests by insect parasitoids and predators: the BIOCAT database. Biocontrol News and Information, 12: 61N - 68N.

Henneman, M.L. & Memmott, J. 2001. Infiltration of a Hawaiian community by introduced biological control agents. Science, 293: 1314 - 1316.

Howarth, F.G. 2000. Non-target effects of biological control agents. In: G. Gurr & S. Wratten, eds. Biological control: measures of success, pp. 369-403. Dordrecht, Netherlands, Kluwer. 429 pp.

Julien, M.H. & Griffiths, M.W., eds. 1998. Biological control of weeds. A world catalogue of agents and their target weeds. Fourth edition. Wallingford, UK, CABI Publishing, 223 pp.

Kairo, M.T.K., Cock, M.J.W. & Quinlan, M.M. 2003. An assessment of the use of the Code of Conduct for the Import and Release of Exotic Biological Control Agents (ISPM No. 3) since its endorsement as an international standard. Biocontrol News and Information, 24: 15N - 27N (available at

Lynch, L.D. & Thomas, M.B. 2000. Nontarget effects in the biocontrol of insects with insects, nematodes and microbial agents: the evidence. Biocontrol News and Information 21, 117N-130N (available at

Thomas, M.B. & Willis, A.J. 1998. Biocontrol - risky but necessary? Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 13: 325 - 329.

Wajnberg, E., Scott, J.K. & Quimby, P.C., eds. 2000. Evaluating indirect ecological effects of biological control. Wallingford, UK, CABI Publishing. 261 pp.

Note: All adopted international standards for phytosanitary measures (ISPMs), including ISPM 3: Code of conduct for the import and release of exotic biological control agents, are available at So also is the draft revision of ISPM 3 sent out for country consultation in 2004.

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