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Invasive Saltcedar Triggers Lively Debate among Weed Scientists and Land Managers
Date:8/24/2009

ems, both targeted aerial applications of herbicides and labor-intensive mechanical operations have been used to remove saltcedar, sometimes with long-term success. Now land managers are adding new biological control agents to their arsenal by releasing saltcedar leaf beetles (Diorhabda elongata) imported from China and Greece. The small insects strip saltcedar of its leaves, while ignoring native vegetation.

"Symposium participants had a spirited debate about whether release of a biological control for saltcedar in the Southwest is a good idea or a bad one," said April Fletcher of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "But I believe everyone left the symposium with a greater appreciation of how complex the issues of saltcedar control are, and how many questions remain unanswered."

Many of those unanswered questions involved the ecosystem of the Southwest. If saltcedar is removed, will native species return? Or have groundwater levels and flooding patterns been changed so much as a result of human activities that the original cottonwood galleries will be unable to grow? If saltcedar stands are controlled, what will happen to wildlife species that now depend on the shrub for nesting sites, including the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus)? Participants also had lots of questions about the potential for unintended consequences from the voracious saltcedar leaf beetle.

"Though we've made great progress in controlling some of the nation's most destructive plants and weeds, the debate over saltcedar shows ongoing research is vital," said Lee Van Wychen, science policy director for the Weed Science Society of America. "Taking a science-based approach can help us answer critical questions about our natural ecosystems and carefully weigh the impact of the decisions we make."

For a closer look at symposium presentations on saltcedar, biological control stra
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