Non-Native Tamarisk Beetles Found in Verde Valley

Tamarisk beetle
A tamarisk beetle. | Roman Jashenko/Courtesy of Friends of the Verde River

A recent discovery of an insect species in Central Arizona could have positive and negative effects on the area's ecology, experts say.

Friends of the Verde River announced last month that tamarisk beetles have been discovered in the 434,000-acre Verde River watershed. The beetles, like their namesake trees, are not native to Arizona, and they feed only on the leaves of tamarisk trees, which were introduced to the U.S. in the 1800s and quickly proliferated.

The beetles can completely strip a tree of its leaves in a short time, and the process kills some of the trees after several years, the organization said. That benefits efforts to restore the Verde River to a natural state, since tamarisks often push out native plants and alter natural habitats.

However, many of the bird species found along the Verde River have begun using tamarisks for nesting, so the death of some tamarisks could impact those birds, Friends of the Verde River said. In particular, the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher could be put at risk.

Additionally, dead tamarisks will have to be removed to reduce dangers from fire and falling trees, the group said.

Tamarisk beetles were introduced in other states to control tamarisks in the early 2000s, and they expanded into Arizona after an unauthorized release of the beetles in Southern Utah. Researchers plan to continue monitoring for tamarisk beetles throughout the summer.

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