BEMP loves data!
This January, BEMP biologist Keara and lead educator Kelly took some of that data to the Riparian Restoration Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. They spoke with land managers, scientists, and students about the challenges facing rivers across western North America. Keara and Kelly learned about different parts of riparian ecosystems, from the symbiotic relationship between fungi and cottonwood roots deep in the soil to the genetics of the tamarisk leaf beetle living high in the
Keara gave a presentation about BEMP’s tamarisk leaf beetle (TLB) monitoring, which has been taking place over the past 5 summers. TLB’s feed exclusively on saltcedars and were introduced from Eurasia to other parts of the Southwest to manage this exotic tree. Since then, the TLB’s range has been expanding, and they have made their way onto most of our BEMP sites over the past few years. Keara discussed how TLB populations seem to follow a boom and bust pattern where many beetles are present one year and then very few the next. Keara also shared that 2018 was the first year when BEMP observed one saltcedar dying as a direct result of beetle defoliation. In the years ahead, BEMP and Keara will continue to monitor the TLB and its impact on the bosque.
Kelly has been working with BEMP’s vegetation cover dataset to better understand what drives differences in the bosque’s varied plant communities. Although seasonal flooding used to be the bosque’s primary ecological driver, human-made changes to the Rio Grande mean that flooding no longer occurs in much of this riparian forest. Kelly found that sites where flooding still occurs contain much higher plant diversity than sites which no longer flood. Native plant cover at flooding sites also increased with warmer temperatures while the same species at non flooding sites saw decreased abundance as temperatures rose. Kelly’s findings indicate that plants in the bosque are responding differently to climate change depending upon how much water is readily available.
One of the key takeaways from the conference was that we need to consider how to protect and restore riparian systems for future climate conditions rather than just thinking about what works today. Thankfully, there are a lot of minds all across the Western United States working on this very challenge. BEMP’s long-term datasets collected by amazing community scientists are an important part of achieving this goal. BEMP loved getting the chance to share everything our community scientists help us learn about the bosque with all the people who care about rivers as much as we do!
Kelly Steinberg, BEMP Lead Educator & Keara Bixby, BEMP Lab Manager