Beetles enjoying a buffet of saltcedar in Oklahoma
It has been a hard day’s night, and they have been working like a dog. Saltcedar beetles may be the new rock stars for property owners in Oklahoma.
Brought from the Middle East and planted along the United States’ east coast because it could handle high salt content and effectively prevented bank and beach erosion, saltcedar has swept the nation.
“We have really planted a lot of it for soil erosion control, especially in areas that have high salinity,” said Karen Hickman, professor in Oklahoma State University’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management. “As people moved west, it moved west with them.”
For more than 100 years, the invasive species has worked its way through river systems and has spread from the Carolinas to California and as far north as the Canadian border. While the saltcedar is great for erosion control, it causes major problems to native species sharing the same area.
“Saltcedar can redistribute salt from underground water sources,” Hickman said. “It brings it up and excretes that salt on its leaf surfaces and then a rainfall event comes and washes into the soil and that really changes salinity levels and inhibits the native species.”
Landowners have tried several management practices including herbicide application, prescribed fire and mechanical removal to fight off the species. But, recently landowners have been noticing some plants dying in the western edge of Oklahoma.
Enter the saltcedar beetle.
In 2006, 12 states, including Texas, released saltcedar beetles in hopes of slowing the invasive species. And, it seems to be working.
“As it turns out, the beetle doesn’t recognize state borders and it spilled over into Oklahoma and it started establishing along the western portions of the state,” said Tom Royer,” professor of entomology and plant pathology at OSU.
These beetles have been found in 17 Oklahoma counties, and counting. Strangely enough, research has shown they only have an appetite for saltcedar.
“It’s very specific to tamarix (saltcedar) species, so we can be very confident this beetle isn’t going to move over and eat anything else,” Royer said. “It’s not going to eliminate saltcedar, but it is going to reduce and weaken it enough to where other native plant species can better compete with it.”
Saltcedar beetles can pick up the slack left behind from the other management practices against the invasive species.
“This is one more management practice that is going to enhance the success of those landowners who are trying to control it,” said Hickman.