Host specificity of the leaf beetle, Diorhabda elongata deserticola (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) from Asia, a biological control agent for saltcedars (Tamarix: Tamaricaceae) in the Western United States
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Four species of saltcedars, Tamarix ramosissima Ledeb., Tamarix chinensis Lour., Tamarix parviflora DC., and T. canariensis Willd. and their hybrids, are exotic, invasive small trees from Asia that cause great damage to riparian ecosystems of the western United States. They displace native plant communities, degrade wildlife habitat (including that of many endangered species), increase soil salinity and wildfires, lower water tables, reduce water available for agriculture and municipalities, and reduce recreational use of affected areas. Phytophagous insects are abundant on saltcedar in the Old World and we selected Diorhabda elongata Brullé deserticola Chen as the top candidate biological control agent because of the great damage it causes, and its high host specificity, broad geographic range, and presumed adaptability in the United States. Literature review and our overseas surveys indicated that this insect is associated only with species of Tamarix and occasionally with Myricaria but not with Reumaria or Frankenia (all Tamaricales) in the Old World. In quarantine facilities in the United States, and overseas, we tested beetles from China and Kazakhstan on six species and three hybrids (26 accessions) of Tamarix and on 58 species of other plants, in 15 tests of different types, using 1852 adults and 3547 larvae, over 10 years. Survival from larvae to adults averaged 55–67% on the Tamarix species, 12% on Myricaria sp., and only 1.6% on the three Frankenia spp. No larvae completed their development on any of the other 54 plant species tested, where most larvae died during the first instar. Adults oviposited readily on T. ramosissima accessions, less on Tamarix aphylla (L.) Karst. (athel), and only rarely on other plants. The host range of the D. e. deserticola we tested from Kazakhstan was not different from those we tested from China. Therefore, D. e. deserticola, is sufficiently host-specific and was approved for field release in North America. This is the first biological control agent introduced into the United States for control of saltcedar. Published by Elsevier Science (USA).