Beneficial Beetles Battle Saltcedar

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist C. Jack DeLoach, ARS ecologist Raymond I. Carruthers, and their co-investigators have found that a leafbeetle that they’ve investigated and helped import, Diorhabda elongata, has now defoliated hundreds of acres of saltcedar-infested test sites in Colorado, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. DeLoach is with the ARS Grassland Protection Research Unit at Temple, Texas and Carruthers is based at the ARS Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif.

Also known as tamarisk, saltcedar was brought into the United States in the 1800s to help control erosion. By the mid-1900s, however, saltcedar had become an out-of-control pest, crowding native plants, such as cottonwoods and willows, along streambanks and river channels throughout the American West. Besides disrupting the natural surroundings needed by native plants, birds, fish and other forms of life, saltcedar reeks havoc with farm roads and fields. When rivers and streams overflow their banks, saltcedar bushes can trap natural flood debris, blocking waterflow and causing new, erosive channels to form. These channels sometimes can undercut farm roads and fields, causing them to collapse.

The outdoor tests, starting in 2001, represent the first time any natural organism had been lined up to tackle saltcedar. Collected from saltcedar in the Mediterranean region as well as in China, Kazakhstan and other parts of Asia, the beetles devour saltcedar’s scale-like leaves. That happens when the insect is in its caterpillar-like larval stage or has matured into a quarter-inch-long adult beetle. The beetle poses no hazard to people, pets or crops.

For more of the article by Marcia Wood, visit

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