Establishment of the saltcedar leaf beetle (Diorhabda spp.) has been unpredictable when caged or released in the field for saltcedar (Tamarix spp.) biocontrol. It has been observed that one caged tree might be voraciously fed upon by beetles while an adjacent tree in the cage is left untouched. We hypothesized that differences in the nutrient content of individual trees may explain this behavior. We evaluated survival, development rate, and egg production of beetles fed in the laboratory on saltcedar foliage from trees that had been grown under a range of fertilizer treatments. Tissue samples from the experimental trees and from the field were analyzed for percent nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. There was essentially no survival of beetle larvae fed foliage from saltcedar trees at nitrogen levels below 2.0%. At levels above 2.0% N, beetle larvae had corresponding increased survival rates and shorter development times. Multiple regression analyses indicated that nitrogen and phosphorus are important for larval survival and faster development rates. Higher levels of potassium were important for increased egg cluster production. The plant tissue analysis showed that the percentage of nitrogen in the experimental trees reflected the range of trees in the field and also that there is high variability within trees in the field. Our research indicates that if beetles are released on trees with poor nutrient quality, the larvae will not survive.
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