Tamarix invading the southwest
Like modern day Sherlock Holmeses, plant biologists at Washington University in St. Louis have donned their deerstalkers to get to the bottom of some botanical mysteries.
Barbara A. Schaal, Ph.D., Washington University professor of biology and her graduate students use DNA sequences to reveal information on historical events. Schaal has traced the origins of cassava using molecular techniques, and now is using systematics and phylogeography to document the role of hybridization and introgression in the evolution of Phlox species and to trace the Eurasian source of invasive Tamarix species in the United States.
The Tamarix species, commonly called saltcedar, are environmental threats that have invaded the arid southwest and are contributing to the drying up of creeks and streams in that water-threatened area. Over a million acres are now infested with saltcedar monocultures along streams and riverbeds. The salt cedars long taproots suck up salty ground water and drop salt-crusted leaves on the soil surface. This makes it almost impossible for native plants to take root. The loss of native plants also decreases the insect and bird biodiversity.
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