First Biological Control Agent For Saltcedar Released
ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
Kathryn Barry Stelljes, (510) 559-6069, firstname.lastname@example.org
July 8, 1999
TEMPLE, Texas, July 8--U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers will place
about 3,000 eggs of Chinese leaf beetles in experimental field cages in six
states as the first step in a biological control program for the invasive
weed saltcedar. The trees, which can grow up to 30 feet tall, infest more
than 1 million acres along rivers and streams throughout the West.
"The leaf beetles eat only Old World species of saltcedar," said C. Jack
DeLoach, an entomologist with USDA's Agricultural Research Service. Over the
next few weeks, he and colleagues will place beetle eggs or larvae on caged
saltcedar plants at sites in California, Colorado, Nevada, Texas, Utah and
Wyoming. DeLoach, based at the ARS Grassland, Soil and Water Research
Laboratory in Temple, leads the biological control project.
"Saltcedar was brought into the U.S. in 1837 to protect streambanks from
erosion," DeLoach said. "But no one realized that, without natural enemies,
saltcedar would crowd out plants crucial to wildlife." The trees also
degrade wildlife habitat, by increasing soil salinity, changing streamflows
and increasing wildfire frequency.
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service today authorized permits,
with concurrence from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for ARS to release
the beetles into cages at selected sites across the western U.S.
DeLoach said that this is the first time biocontrol scientists have targeted
a weed that can be important to an endangered animal--namely, the
southwestern willow flycatcher, Empidonax traillii extimus. These birds nest
in saltcedar in some locations where the trees had crowded out and replaced
their native willow nesting sites. For this reason, ARS will conduct one
year of field experiments during which the beetles will remain in cages. In
addition, no beetles will be released in any areas near nesting flycatchers
without approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
For the field tests, DeLoach and colleagues will erect 10-foot-square cages
over existing saltcedar infestations along rivers and streams near Bishop,
King City and Woodland, Calif.; Pueblo, Colo.; western Nevada (Lovelock,
Schurz and Fallon); Seymour, Texas; Delta, Utah; and Lovell, Wyo. Diorhabda
eggs will be placed on the saltcedar so the insects will have a food source
upon hatching. Researchers will monitor the behavior of the beetles in the
"Diorhabda is an ideal biological control agent,"said ARS ecologist Raymond
I. Carruthers. The beetle was tested extensively in China and in ARS
quarantine facilities in Temple. Researchers have found no plants other than
saltcedar on which the beetles feed and reproduce, and no native saltcedar
relatives occur in the U.S. Carruthers leads the Exotic and Invasive Weeds
Research Unit at the ARS Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif.
"There has been some concern that the beetles will defoliate the saltcedar
so quickly that the flycatchers will not have nesting areas," said
Carruthers. "We do not expect this to happen. Biological control is a
gradual process, and we expect willow trees to reestablish as saltcedar is
slowly reduced," he said.
When the beetles are ultimately approved for release outside the cages, they
should spread out several hundred feet per year to infest other saltcedar
plants adjacent to previously caged areas. Beetles would have to be
collected and released at new sites to enhance saltcedar control.
The biological control program for the saltcedar is just one of many steps
USDA is taking to address the growing environmental and economic threat of
invasive species. As part of a recently created Invasive Species Council,
USDA , the Departments of Interior and Commerce will help draft a federal
strategy to combat invasive species. The Administration's fiscal year 2000
budget proposal also includes more funding to fight these invasive species
in the new millennium.
Scientific contacts: C. Jack DeLoach, ARS Grassland, Soil and Water Research
Laboratory, Temple, Texas, phone (254) 770-6531, fax (254) 770-6561,
email@example.com; Raymond I. Carruthers, ARS Exotic and Invasive Weeds
Research Unit, Albany, Calif., phone (510) 559-6127, fax (510) 559-6123,
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