Indirect effects of biocontrol of an invasive riparian plant (Tamarix) alters habitat and reduces herpetofauna abundance

H. L. Bateman, D. M. Merritt, E. P. Glenn, P. L. Nagler

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    24 Scopus citations


    The biological control agent (tamarisk leaf beetle, Diorhabda spp.) is actively being used to defoliate exotic saltcedar or tamarisk (Tamarix spp.) in riparian ecosystems in western USA. The Virgin River in Arizona and Nevada is a system where tamarisk leaf beetle populations are spreading. Saltcedar biocontrol, like other control methods, has the potential to affect non-target species. Because amphibians and reptiles respond to vegetation changes in habitat and forage in areas where beetles are active, herpetofauna are model taxa to investigate potential impacts of biocontrol defoliation. Our objectives related herpetofauna abundance to vegetation cover and indices (normalized difference vegetation index, NDVI; enhanced vegetation index, EVI) and timing of biocontrol defoliation. We captured herpetofauna and ground-dwelling arthropods in trap arrays and measured vegetation using remotely sensed images and on-the-ground measurements at 16–21 sites 2 years before (2009–2010) and 2 years following (2011–2012) biocontrol defoliation. Following defoliation, riparian stands (including stands mixed with native and exotic trees and stands of monotypic exotic saltcedar) had significantly lower NDVI and EVI values and fewer captures of marked lizards. Total captures of herpetofauna (toads, lizards, and snakes) were related to higher vegetation cover and sites with a lower proportion of saltcedar. Our results suggest that effects of biocontrol defoliation are likely to be site-specific and depend upon the proportion of native riparian trees established prior to biocontrol introduction and defoliation. The mechanisms by which habitat structure, microclimate, and ultimately vertebrate species are affected by exotic plant biocontrol riparian areas should be a focus of natural-resource managers.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)87-97
    Number of pages11
    JournalBiological Invasions
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Jan 2014


    • Lizard
    • Remote-sensing
    • Reptile
    • Riparian
    • Vegetation index
    • Weed biocontrol

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
    • Ecology


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