Small desert beetle found to engineer ecosystems

Mar 27, 2008

The catastrophic action a tiny beetle is wreaking on the deteriorating Chihuahuan desert will be revealed in the April edition of the Royal Entomological Society's Ecological Entomology journal.

The mesquite girdler Oncideres rhodosticta may only be 13mm long, but it has a big role in shaping the landscape. Research carried out by Benjamin Duval and Walter Whitford at New Mexico State University has revealed that the beetle is speeding up the degradation of grasslands in the Chihuahua desert, the landscape so stunningly depicted in this year’s Oscar-winning film No Country for Old Men.

The mesquite girdler does this by regulating the growth of the mesquite shrub, ensuring their offspring have a plentiful supply of food. The beetles chew girdles around the older stems of the shrub, which forces the plant to regrow new stems the following year. The new stems supply the beetle larvae with food, but the mesquite shrub takes more nutrients from the soil for its increased growth, leaving less for the other plant species such as grasses.

Up to 150 years ago, the North Chihuahuan Desert was completely covered in grassland. The picture today is very different – dunes and mesquite shrubs cover much of the landscape.

Duval said: “Although the desertification process was likely started by overgrazing cattle, the ecosystem engineering impact of the mesquite girdler could finish off the process”.

Source: Wiley

Explore further: Romeo and Juliet roles for banded mongooses

Related Stories

This beetle uses eggs as shields against wasps

Sep 14, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- New University of Arizona research has discovered that seed beetles from the desert Southwest shelter their broods from attacking parasitic wasps under a stack of dummy eggs.

Recommended for you

Research shows 'mulch fungus' causes turfgrass disease

7 hours ago

Inadvertently continuing a line of study they conducted about 15 years ago, a team of Penn State researchers recently discovered the causal agent for an emerging turfgrass disease affecting golf courses around ...

Study on pesticides in lab rat feed causes a stir

9 hours ago

French scientists published evidence Thursday of pesticide contamination of lab rat feed which they said discredited historic toxicity studies, though commentators questioned the analysis.

Why the seahorse's tail is square

9 hours ago

Why is the seahorse's tail square? An international team of researchers has found the answer and it could lead to building better robots and medical devices. In a nutshell, a tail made of square, overlapping ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.