We measured the rate of dispersal of saltcedar leaf beetles (Diorhabda carinulata), a defoliating insect released on western rivers to control saltcedar shrubs (Tamarix spp.), on a 63 km reach of the Virgin River, U.S. Dispersal was measured by satellite imagery, ground surveys and phenocams. Pixels from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) sensors on the Terra satellite showed a sharp drop in NDVI in midsummer followed by recovery, correlated with defoliation events as revealed in networked digital camera images and ground surveys. Ground surveys and MODIS imagery showed that beetle damage progressed downstream at a rate of about 25 km yr−1 in 2010 and 2011, producing a 50% reduction in saltcedar leaf area index and evapotranspiration by 2012, as estimated by algorithms based on MODIS Enhanced Vegetation Index values and local meteorological data for Mesquite, Nevada. This reduction is the equivalent of 10.4% of mean annual river flows on this river reach. Our results confirm other observations that saltcedar beetles are dispersing much faster than originally predicted in pre-release biological assessments, presenting new challenges and opportunities for land, water and wildlife managers on western rivers. Despite relatively coarse resolution (250 m) and gridding artifacts, single MODIS pixels can be useful in tracking the effects of defoliating insects in riparian corridors.
Additional publication details
Rapid dispersal of saltcedar (Tamarix spp.) biocontrol beetles (Diorhabda carinulata) on a desert river detected by phenocams, MODIS imagery and ground observations