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: Living in the genetic comfort zone

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Huge spring tides draw crowds to French Atlantic coast

32 minutes ago

France kicked off nearly a month of exceptionally large spring tides Saturday, as tourists flocked to coastal areas to witness spectacularly high water levels ahead of the so-called "tide of the century" ...

Water in Oregon pipeline is tapped for electricity

2 hours ago

Lucid Energy has developed a renewable energy system that makes use of water moving through pipelines. The company's LucidPipe Power System converts pressure in water pipelines into electricity. They have ...

Arctic oil drillers face tighter US rules to stop spills

4 hours ago

Royal Dutch Shell Plc and any oil drilling company that prospects in the Arctic Ocean must boost safety practices to prevent spills in the frigid and often hostile waters or mitigate the impact, U.S. regulators proposed Friday.

Recommended for you

A molecular compass for bird navigation

5 hours ago

Each year, the Arctic Tern travels over 40,000 miles, migrating nearly from pole to pole and back again. Other birds make similar (though shorter) journeys in search of warmer climes. How do these birds manage ...

Salish Sea seagull populations halved since 1980s

6 hours ago

The number of seagulls in the Strait of Georgia is down by 50 per cent from the 1980s and University of British Columbia researchers say the decline reflects changes in the availability of food.

Cultivation of microalgae via an innovative technology

6 hours ago

Preliminary laboratory scale studies have shown consistent biomass production and weekly a thick microalgal biofilm could be harvested. A new and innovative harvesting device has been developed for ALGADISK able to directly ...

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.