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

Abstract

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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Data availability

Data associated with this paper are available in the USGS ScienceBase repository https://doi.org/10.5066/p97kzjgp.

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Acknowledgements

The US Geological Survey, Invasive Species Program supported field data collection, analysis, and overall manuscript preparation. Eric Wahlig, Cherokee Nation Technologies, conducted the field topographic surveys. We thank the field crews for their dedicated work in sampling the vegetation, geomorphological and environmental variables. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

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Correspondence to Patrick B. Shafroth.

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González, E., Shafroth, P.B., Lee, S.R. et al. Combined effects of biological control of an invasive shrub and fluvial processes on riparian vegetation dynamics. Biol Invasions 22, 2339–2356 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-020-02259-9

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Keywords

  • Arrowweed
  • Biological control
  • Defoliating beetle
  • Large flood
  • Saltcedar
  • Tamarisk
  • Vegetation response