Our proposal addresses Funding Category Ill by evaluating natural resource management practices and adaptation opportunities. More specifically, our project addresses Science Need #6 to improve monitoring and inventory of watersheds and ecosystems (including invasive species). Our proposed study will occur within the Southern Rockies Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) (upper Virgin River, UT) and the Desert LCC (lower Virgin River, AZ and NVL and therefore will be submitting to both cooperatives. Invasive saltcedar (Tamarix spp.) is the third most abundant tree in Southwestern riparian systems (Friedman et al. 2005). Resource managers must often balance the management goals of protecting wildlife species and habitats with control of non-native and invasive plants. This project will determine if the introduction of the biocontrol agent (tamarisk leaf beetle, Diorhabda spp.) as an insect consumer and defoliator of saltcedar influences wildlife populations and communities via alterations to food resources and/or habitat. By taking advantage of an unprecedented natural experiment and two years of pre-biocontrol monitoring, the researchers will track changes in amphibian and reptile (herpetofauna), and avian communities as biocontrol enters a system dominated by a non-native plant species. The investigators predict that the introduction and proliferation of the biocontrol beetle will affect wildlife groups because this insect is known to be eaten by several wildlife species and because it causes defoliation of its host plant, thereby altering the physical habitat. This work expands upon preliminary research by the investigators which focused on relating wildlife populations and communities to habitat structure in a non-native plant ecosystem prior to the establishment of biocontrol. Our results can help to inform decisions made by natural resource managers by providing guidance on how wildlife species respond (either positively or negatively) to management actions such as biocontrol in riparian habitats.
This project was co-funded by multiple Landscape Conservation Cooperatives: Desert LCC and the Southern Rockies LCC.