Species introductions and their cascading impacts on biotic interactions in desert riparian ecosystems

Kevin R. Hultine, Dan W. Bean, Tom L. Dudley, Catherine A. Gehring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Desert riparian ecosystems of North America are hotspots of biodiversity that support many sensitive species, and are in a region experiencing some of the highest rates of climatic alteration in North America. Fremont cottonwood, Populus fremontii, is a foundation tree species of this critical habitat, but it is threatened by global warming and regional drying, and by a non-native tree/shrub, Tamarix spp., all of which can disrupt the mutualism between P. fremontii and its beneficial mycorrhizal fungal communities. Specialist herbivorous leaf beetles (Diorhabda spp.) introduced for biocontrol of Tamarix are altering the relationship between this shrub and its environment. Repeated episodic feeding on Tamarix foliage by Diorhabda results in varying rates of dieback and mortality, depending on genetic variation in allocation of resources, growing conditions, and phenological synchrony between herbivore and host plant. In this article, we review the complex interaction between climatic change and species introductions and their combined impacts on P. fremontii and their associated communities. We anticipate that (1) certain genotypes of P. fremontii will respond more favorably to the presence of Tamarix and to climatic change due to varying selection pressures to cope with competition and stress; (2) the ongoing evolution of Diorhabda's life cycle timing will continue to facilitate its expansion in North America, and will over time enhance herbivore impact to Tamarix; (3) defoliation by Diorhabda will reduce the negative impact of Tamarix on P. fremontii associations with mycorrhizal fungi; and (4) spatial variability in climate and climatic change will modify the capacity for Tamarix to survive episodic defoliation by Diorhabda, thereby altering the relationship between Tamarix and P. fremontii, and its associated mycorrhizal fungal communities. Given the complex biotic/abiotic interactions outlined in this review, conservation biologists and riparian ecosystem managers should strive to identify and conserve the phenotypic traits that underpin tolerance and resistance to stressors such as climate change and species invasion. Such efforts will greatly enhance conservation restoration efficacy for protecting P. fremontii forests and their associated communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)587-601
Number of pages15
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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