(Santa Barbara, Calif.) Simply by eating the leaves of an invasive tree that soaks up river water, an Asian beetle may help to slow down water loss in the Southwestern United States.
Two scientists from UC Santa Barbara, working with colleagues from the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have published the first substantive data showing water savings that can result from using Asian beetles for the biological control of tamarisk, an invasive tree of western rivers. The study is now published online and in print in the journal Oecologia.
"Widespread growth of this tree is a critical issue in arid regions facing greater social water demands," said Carla D'Antonio, Schuyler Professor of Environmental Studies at UCSB. "It happens at a time when water supplies may be reduced as a consequence of climate change. Additionally, society is increasingly concerned about wildlife species that depend on these wetland ecosystems."
Tamarisk, also known as saltcedar, is an invasive tree or shrub from Eurasia that occupies over one million acres of riverside habitat in western North America. It displaces native riparian woodlands, reduces habitat quality for wildlife, exacerbates erosion and sedimentation problems, and is flammable, therefore a wildfire hazard. The tree was introduced into North America over 100 years ago, and has overtaken many Western river systems.
The study was conducted in the Great Basin of Nevada as part of a USDA Agricultural Research Service program to develop new methods for invasive plant management. During the first year of large-scale tamarisk defoliation by the tamarisk leaf beetle (Diorhabda carinulata), approximately 2,500 acre-feet of water remained in the ground rather than being lost to the atmosphere. This was in the Humboldt River Basin of northern Nevada in an area of approximately 4,500 acres where tamarisk vegetation dominates.
"This is roughly the same amou
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University of California - Santa Barbara