Biological Invasions

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 87–97 | Cite as

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
Original Paper


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.


Lizard Reptile Remote-sensing Riparian Vegetation index Weed biocontrol 



We thank the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada and Arizona for permitting access to study sites. We thank Aaron Switalski, Michael Bonacci, Rachel Olzer, Nick Vandehei, Rachael Cernetic, Danny Nielsen, Steven Anderson, Michael Cleaver, Paul Maier, Jean Galang, and William Bubnis for field assistance. We thank Tom Dudley and Michael Kuehn for logistical support. We thank Melanie Banville for help with R code. Permits were issued by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Nevada Department of Wildlife, and Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Funding for H.L.B. has come from the Department of Applied Sciences and Mathematics at Arizona State University. Any use of trade, product, or firm names in this publication is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. government.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. L. Bateman
    • 1
  • D. M. Merritt
    • 2
  • E. P. Glenn
    • 3
  • P. L. Nagler
    • 4
  1. 1.Arizona State University at the Polytechnic CampusMesaUSA
  2. 2.Watershed, Fish, Wildlife, Air, and Rare Plants StaffU.S. Forest ServiceFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.Environmental Research LaboratoryUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  4. 4.Southwest Biological Science CenterU.S. Geological SurveyTucsonUSA

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