Combined effects of biological control of an invasive shrub and fluvial processes on riparian vegetation dynamics

Biological Invasions
By: , and 



Plant community responses to biocontrol of invasive plants are understudied, despite the strong influence of the composition of replacement vegetation on ecosystem functions and services. We studied the vegetation response to a folivore beetle (Diorhabda genus, Coleoptera) that has been introduced along southwestern US river valleys to control the invasion of non-native shrubs in the genus Tamarix (Tamaricaceae). We collected detailed plant compositional and environmental data during four different surveys over 7 years (2010–2017), including two surveys prior to when substantial beetle-induced dieback occurred in summer 2012, along the lower Virgin River, Nevada. The study river was of special interest because it is one of only a few largely unregulated rivers in the region, and a large flood of 40-year return period occurred between the first and second surveys, allowing us to study the combined effects of fluvial processes, which typically drive riparian plant community assembly, and biocontrol. Vegetation trajectories differed as a function of the dominant geomorphological process. Tamarix cover declined an average of 75% and was replaced by the native shrub Pluchea sericea as the new dominant species in the floodplain, especially where sediment deposition predominated. Following deposition, and especially erosion, opportunistic native herbs, Tamarix seedlings, and noxious weeds colonized the understory layer but did not increase in cover over time. Stands of the native shrub Salix exigua, a desirable replacement species following Tamarix control, only increased slightly and remained subordinate in the floodplain. Overall, our results showed that, by successfully controlling the target non-native plant, a biocontrol agent can substantially modify the replacement plant communities in a riparian system, but that fluvial processes also strongly influence the resulting communities.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Combined effects of biological control of an invasive shrub and fluvial processes on riparian vegetation dynamics
Series title Biological Invasions
DOI 10.1007/s10530-020-02259-9
Volume 22
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description 18 p.
First page 2339
Last page 2356
Country United States
State Arizona, Nevada, Utah
Other Geospatial Virgin River
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