Use of domestic animals as biological control agents of desert shrubs: Problems and promise

TitleUse of domestic animals as biological control agents of desert shrubs: Problems and promise
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication1993
AuthorsFredrickson E.L., Estell RE, Havstad K
Conference Name4th Symposium on the Chihuahuan Desert Region: US and Mexico
Date Published1993
Keywordsbiological control agents, desert shrubs, domestic animals
AbstractInseparable anthropogenic and nonanthropogenic factors have altered the dynamics and form of the Chihuahuan Desert. This alteration is characterized by replacement of desert grasslands with shrub species. When this change is viewed as deleterious, few remedial technologies are available either because of economics or potential ecological constraints. In conjunction with skillful management, domestic animals may provide an accessible bioremediation tool that provides additional nutritional and economic benefits. Attempts to use domestic animals to facilitate vegetational change have been successful; however, failures often occur because of animal rejection of target plants. Aspects of animal preference, plant palatability, and plant toxicity are causes of this rejection that may be biochemically mediated. Focusing on carbon-based phytochemicals within tarbush (Flourensia cernua), we have documented substantial temporal and spatial variability in plant phytochemistry while identifying compounds suspected to influence plant palatability. Furthermore, we have observed considerable variation in animal preference for tarbush within and among animal species. Although chemo- and electromagnetic receptors are generally considered to affect animal preference, we provide evidence that preference is also affected by visceral afferents which signify hepatic toxicosis. Examining plant-animal interactions from a biochemical perspective will enhance our understanding of vegetation change and development of potential restorative technologies.