Beetle released to help ecosystem could wipe out endangered bird

flycatcher-pic

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Call it a chain reaction, wildlife officials are now worried that a beetle released in the southwest to wipe out an invasive tree is now chomping away in the Bosque and could end up wiping out an endangered bird here.

These beetles were first seen in New Mexico about 10 years ago, now they are destroying trees where Southwestern Willow Flycatcher’s nest, and that could become a huge problem.

Southwestern Willow Flycatchers are a small songbird native to New Mexico.

“An endangered species of bird that migrates through the middle Rio Grande coming through about mid-May and stays until mid-August,” said Vicky Ryan, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Now, a beetle is threatening the flycatcher’s existence. It eats the leaves around the flycatcher’s nests on salt cedar trees.

“So those eggs can get really hot. And the parents need to go and get food, so they can leave the nest and the eggs are just out in the open. It will be easier for predators,” said Ryan.

However, the beetles were not always the bad guys. The U.S. Department of Agriculture released the beetles into the Southwest region of the U.S. about 15 years ago to control the spread of the non-native salt cedars.

“A lot of biologists and managers thought that the Salt cedar was using more water than other vegetation,” said Ryan.

And to minimize the risk of wildfires.

“All the leafy material out, so it accumulates over time, which makes it an easy spark for fires,” said Ryan.

But last month, biologists noticed the beetles were exhibiting new behavior, damaging trees in areas where flycatchers live.

“Further down the road, if the salt cedar is not replaced with other areas where the flycatchers can nest, then we could have a severe population decline,” said Ryan.

And they fear, New Mexicans may no longer be able to enjoy the songs of the flycatcher.

Biologists said the ideal solution would be replacing the salt cedar trees with native vegetation, but costs and resources are big obstacles.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimate there are about 400 breeding flycatcher’s in the mid Rio Grande Valley, that is up from just a couple of dozen a decade ago.

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