Small desert beetle found to engineer ecosystems

March 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: This beetle uses eggs as shields against wasps

Related Stories

This beetle uses eggs as shields against wasps

September 14, 2011

( -- 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

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

Blue skies, frozen water detected on Pluto

October 8, 2015

Pluto has blue skies and patches of frozen water, according to the latest data out Thursday from NASA's unmanned New Horizons probe, which made a historic flyby of the dwarf planet in July.

New method facilitates research on fuel cell catalysts

October 8, 2015

While the cleaning of car exhausts is among the best known applications of catalytic processes, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Practically the entire chemical industry relies on catalytic reactions. Therefore, catalyst ...


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.