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Keywords:

  • Chihuahuan Desert;
  • landscape conversion;
  • Oncideres rhodosticta;
  • plant–herbivore interactions;
  • Prosopis glandulosa

Abstract 1. Resource regulation by insects is the phenomenon by which herbivory enhances resources for the progeny of the herbivore. This report provides an example of resource regulation with implications for desertification in the Chihuahuan Desert of North America.

2. Female Oncideres rhodosticta beetles chew girdles around mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) stems before ovipositing in those stems. The mesquite plants respond by producing compensatory stems below the girdle. Mesquite volume was significantly correlated with the total number of beetle girdles across a suite of low shrub density grassland and high shrub density dune sites, and plants in dune sites had more old and new girdles than mesquite in grasslands.

3. Smaller, younger shrubs in grassland responded more vigorously to girdling than did larger, older shrubs in dune landscapes. Stems on shrubs within grassland produced significantly more and longer compensatory stems per girdle than stems on shrubs in dunes. Soil capture by individual plants positively correlated with stem density, and stem density is increasing in the younger plants as a response to beetle damage.

4. This study suggests that the interaction between O. rhodosticta and mesquite is an example of resource regulation that increases the stem density and soil capture ability of mesquite. Because the conversion of productive grasslands to mesquite dune landscapes is one of the most important drivers of desertification in the Chihuahuan Desert, feedbacks between organisms that promote an increase in the size and soil capture ability of mesquite may exacerbate desertification.