ESSM graduate student Chris Garza places in EIS and SRW poster competition

Chris Garza, Ecosystem Science and Management graduate student, took second place in the Student Research Week graduate poster competition and third place in the Ecological Integration Symposium graduate poster competition in mid-March. Chris is in the second semester of his master's program in forestry with Dr. Robert Coulson and Dr. Diana Doan-Crider.


The research Chris presented was part of a project for Dr. Coulson's landscape ecology course. Chris and his peers looked at the issue of tamarisk (also known as salt cedar) invasion into riparian habitats that also are home to the federally endangered Southwestern Willow flycatcher. Salt cedar is a small tree/shrub native to central Asia and the Mediterranean that was brought to the United States for erosion control in riparian zones of the southwestern U.S. A prolific tree, salt cedar outcompetes native vegetation such as the willows and these non-native plants have become the Southwestern Willow flycatcher's preferred nesting trees. Chris looked at options for biological control of salt cedar through release of tamarisk beetles. These beetles defoliate the trees and cause salt cedar die-back within about three years. Chris' research focused on pairing the native habitat of the three species of tamarisk beetles with habitats in the U.S. to determine which species would be most effective at specific locations. He then focused on Tonto Creek in Arizona, a protected area for the flycatcher where the birds are nesting in salt cedar. A dispersal model was developed for the beetles to determine how long it could potentially take the beetles to reach the Tonto Creek site. With this information, land managers can be aware of the amount of time there is to prepare for the bird/beetle interactions.

This class project meshes with Chris' overall interests in forest entomology, invasive species interactions with native habitats, and ecological restoration. While Chris hopes to build on this research in subsequent courses, he also is planning field seasons for his master's degree research, which involves assessing forest susceptibility to pine bark beetle outbreaks. His primary study sites are on U.S. Forest Service lands in southern Colorado, southern Utah and northern Arizona.

Chris, a native of Houston, TX, says he has always had a fascination with the outdoors. In part because he grew up in an urban area, he appreciates the opportunities to be in natural areas all the more. As a biology major in college, Chris pursued opportunities such as summer internships with the U.S. Forest Service in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. When finished with his master's Chris hope to be a researcher with the Forest Service and may possibly pursue a doctoral degree as well.

Student Research Week and the Ecological Integration Symposium are annual events that take place during spring semester. Other ESSM graduate students who participated in the EIS and SRW presentation and poster sessions are: Melinda Barnes, Vikram Chhatre, Ricardo Colon-Rivera, Zachary Hurst, Wasantha Kulawardhana, and Katherine Lenoir.

View Chris' poster

Poster citation: Garza, C.A., J.L. Tracy, A.M. Dube, A.M. Long, A.D. Orts, R.N. Coulson, and M.D. Tchakerian. 2012. Projecting climatic suitability for tamarisk beetles and their dispersal into endangered flycatcher habitat in Arizona. Poster session presented at: Student Research Week. 13th Annual Ecological Integration Symposium, 2012 Mar 23-24, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX.