Plan to Import Exotic Beetle Drives Some Scientists Wild

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Science  21 May 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5418, pp. 1255
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5418.1255

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Caged tests are set to begin soon that allow imported Chinese leaf-eating beetles to munch on saltcedar, an Asian import that ran wild last century and now forms dense thickets along many waterways in the western United States. But many biologists fear that the imported insect could develop a taste for native plants as well as for saltcedar, and they note that the saltcedar now provides nesting habitat for a bird whose native habitat it has decimated: the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. These concerns stoked nearly 5 years of fierce debate within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with both protecting the bird and uprooting the invading plant. Last week the government approved a scaled-back plan to introduce beetle swarms into seven states, but the debate isn't over: More tests will be required next year before the beetles can be set free.