INVASIVE SPECIES NEWS
Invasive News is all about invasive species and introduced species, like these phragmites here, Asian carp, and zebra mussels. These imported plants and imported animals are non-native species and enjoy a competitive advantage over native species which have natural enemies keeping them in check.
Are Ecologists Biased Against Non-Native Species? 06.14.11
Zebra Mussels. Something Is Goning To Start Eating These Someday
NBN has been posting headlines like the one above for the past two years. Now we’ve got 19 “eminent” ecologists saying maybe it’s time to reconsider the war on invasive species. That’s bound to seriously anger fishermen in Illinois looking for scientists to help keep the Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes. And let’s not forget the recently hatched plan to import wasps to beat back the emerald ash borer. Such efforts to combat invasive species have had their successes, like the displacement of Meadow Lands invasive fragmities with native salt grasses. So, are these 19 scientists seriously suggesting we let invasive take over the planet like these zebra mussels shown here appear intent on doing?
We’d like to argue that the scientists in the article linked above are half right. We really do need to rethink our battles with invasive species. NBN thinks the relatively low-cost, minimally invasive efforts like the ash borer and other, similar programs are justified while control measure involving chemicals and physical removal are less so. Some invasive species have been a bit of a boon to some of this country's environments. It's these benefits of invasives species that the scientists in the article linked above say is being overlooked. Take the green crab, pictured here. It’s hot bait for blackfish. If blackfish love green crabs and there are lots of greencrabs, that must be good for blackfish which are great to eat. These scientisits are saying there are a lot of new normals we'll have to accept in our future ecosystems, and it's not all bad.
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If Asian Carp are infesting middle-America in such numbers, why not take advantage and send a couple mid-water trawlers through these rivers? It could be a boon to the aquaculture market which is starving for fish to feed to their fish. Yeah, invasive species do a lot of damage to native ecosystems, but the cat is out of the bag. This country spends billions on combating native species without clearly examining what will happen if we just let nature take its course. In some cases, like Asian Carp, such policy will be disastrous at first. But these invasives are a food source for something. Why not either find ways to put them to good use or let nature do so over time.
The War on Invasives:
Is Discretion the Better Part of Valor? 03.29.11
During a recent Wild Edible foods tour in the Bean Town suburb of Cambridge, a woman started regaling the assemblage with her efforts to pull an invasive plant called water chestnut from the Charles River. When it was suggested such efforts were futile and the only way to combat invasives is to let nature take its course, this woman went ballistic. Apparently, passions run high when it comes to invasive plants. They are turning bucolic urban waters, like the Charles shown here, into near swamps; southern pastures are turning into carpets of kudzu; sewage eating fish are overrunning the Great Lake’s billion-dollar sport fishing industry, inedible mussels are clogging nuclear power plant cooling water pipes. The list goes on forever. There are 50,000 invasive species in the US alone and we’re spending $138 billion a year in questionable campaigns to stop them from over-running our ecosystems. Given that, is it so bizarre then to suggest the only way to win this game is to not play.
As always the answer is yes and no. The answer regarding one or two of the examples above might well be “no”. But last week NBN got an unequivocal “yes” from retired NY scientist Steve Resler, reporting on the early success in removing Asian clams from Lake George. As invasives go, the Asian clam is a particularly nasty bugger. It enjoys the standard advantage of all invasive in that there’s nothing in Lake George that naturally eats these clams: no natural enemies in the environment to keep it in check. The Asian clam is also hermaphroditic, it doesn’t require as much calcium as competing species to build its shell and it can take in food from its mouth—called a siphon—and it’s foot, an appendage it uses for digging. talk about competitive advantage
It’s anyone’s guess exactly what would happen if this clam was left to make little clams to its heart’s content, like we suggest. However, in the few years the clams are believed to have been in Lake George, this is what Asian clams have done to the lake bottom. This is just the litter of shells on the surface, many many more clams are buried in the sand. Resler is killing those clams by laying down large plastic mats that smoother them. The effort is called the Lake George Asian Clam Rapid Response Task force, and it's being conducted with the help of volunteers, much like the woman cleaning boatloads of water chestnut from the Charles.
When NBN suggested the lake might also be better off if the clams were left to their own devices, Resler—a little more disassionately—got us thinking otherwise. He thinks his effort will work because the clam larvae don’t drift far from where they are released into the water by adult clams. Because they may not spread very fast, he thinks the mats may beat back the clams to what he called a non-viable population—one that doesn’t grow and eventually dies. He offered up a successful program curbing the zebra mussel in Lake George to suggest it can be done. He said volunteers started pulling the zebra mussels out to where populations of those got so low it will now be a struggle for them to expand.
We’re not sure Steve. NBN would like nothing more than for your efforts to pay off, but the Asian clam infestation, like the mussels before them, started with just a few individuals which grew into millions of individuals because they had no natural enemies in their adopted home in Lake George. Human control as a replacement for natural enemies is a reach. This website, dedicated to invasive species success stories, is a little thin to say the least. It’s tough. Steve makes the point that it doesn’t hurt to try. What NBN wonders is this: if invasives have overrun an ecosystem, would it hasten the arrival of a natural enemy if left to grow unchecked? All invasives have natural enemies in the places they came from. Plant or animal, invasive species are food for something. Maybe something will come along. Said another way: is it possible nature will find a way to battle invasives on her own?
Invasive honey suckle is song bird favorite
We offer up People’s Exhibit A, a Science Daily Article where experts are starting to look at the positive impacts of some invasive species such as the Morrow honey suckle which provides foods for certain songbird species. Then we have this study saying the nasty looking sea squirt smothering the ocean bottom off New England's Georges Bank provides habitat for some worms and crabs that some fish, including the tasty but scarce winter flounder, like to eat. Another invasive species called green crabs are becoming a favored food for black fish, a favored food for anyone who likes fish. Like the woman helping to rip water chestnut out of Lake George because they are clogging the waterway, it’s a lot easier to see the short term gains of fighting invasives than the long term wisdom of not.
Have we lost the war on invasive species, before it's even started? 01.04.11
Invasives from Globalization Burdens Future Generations From our if-you-can't-dazzle-them-with-brilliance-baffle-them-with-baloney file, we linked here to this bewildering study saying it takes decades for the ecological impact of invasive species to be felt or seen. Even more startling than the study is the revelation that invasive species with wings spread faster than invasive species that crawl. Ya think? The implications of the study are serious enough: if we think we have problems with invasive species now, we ain't seen nothing yet, primarily because it takes so long for most invasive species to really establish themselves. We pulled this paragraph below as the only useful one in the entire story.
"…the seeds of future invasion problems have already been sown, and they expect the problem of invasive species to become worse in the next few decades. They say that efforts to control invasive species should be expanded with a special focus on not only those species currently most harmful, but also on early warning and rapid response for species already in the territory that are likely to pose the greatest future threat.”
Given the findings of this study, we can't help but question the last sentence in that paragraph above. If, as the study suggests, the invasive cat is already out of the bag, how do we hope to control it? Invasives are already costing the country billions of dollars annually, not to mention, what is being spent overseas.
Does anyone really think we're going to keep the Asian carp out of the Great Lakes? Or should the money being spent on those efforts be directed toward finding natural enemies of the Asian carp to stock the Great Lakes with. Or, with the lightening fast break-thrus in bioengineering these days, doesn't it make more sense to build an unnatural enemy for Asian carp? Boy, can't you hear the Frankenfish folks howling over that idea. But NBN can't help but think humans are increasingly going to be the architects of the ecosystems of tomorrow. Let's hope we can do as good a job as the original architect.
Stinging Ant Starts Scientific Search 09.14.10
Recently, News by Nature got an email from a colleague alerting us to the menace of the European Fire Ant. Apparently, these little buggers pack a wallop and are as amenable as momma grizzlies. The ant has been spotted most recently in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Earlier reports say it’s in Gloucester, MA, and Buffalo, NY, as well. Here’s another link going into more detail about the ant. In April a University of Connecticut researcher sent out the email alert just below and there’s been little news since. We thought we’d post the email this week to help him out. (We’re also a little low on stories.) If you run into this ant in your garden, you’ll know it. Perhaps, you can give a shout to the good folks trying to track it. Here’s the email from the UConn ant guy.
I am a biologist studying an invasive stinging ant that is spreading in New England. We are seeking help from parks, nature centers, and similar organizations to find locations of this species. It is the only ant in Massachusetts that readily stings people. The sting is painful and may cause swelling and itching for a day or two, so anyone unfortunate enough to run into this insect usually remembers. For this reason, we are often able to locate the ant through reports from people who are active outdoors. Please let us know if you have heard of anyone being stung by ants in your area. Specific locations are very useful, such as street addresses or names of rivers, ponds or other landscape features. Negative answers are also helpful, as are suggestions of other persons or organizations to contact.
We'd be happy to answer any questions. The ant, Myrmica rubra, is sometimes called the "European fire ant." They are reddish brown and about a quarter of an inch in length. Many thanks, Eldridge Adams Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut Ant_Hunt@UConn.edu (860)-486-5894 (860)-486-5894
EPA OKs Insect for Plant Control 05.04.10
First is was Galerucella calmariensis now it's Megamelus scutellaris. The battle against invasive plants is increasingly being waged by tiny combatants often recruited from the same places the plants came from. The EPA ruled yesterday that this little fellow pictured here is safe to use against the water hyacinth. Both are native to tropical areas and were doing battle south of the border when the hyacinth managed to sprout roots up north. Free of its nemesis megamelus, the water hyacinth has had a field day on lakes and ponds across the country. That may be over now that the FDA just approved using megamelus to eat up all the hyacinth, similar to the way galerucella, another imported beetle has been keeping purple loosestrife in check. At first, people feared galerucella might develop a fondness for farm crops once it ran out of loosestrife. That hasn't happened and now scientists hope the hyacinth can also be curbed through a tiny beetle with a healthy appetite for a plant eating US waterways out of house and home.
Fanning the Flames over Fanwort 03.22.10
In the war of attrition against invasive species, the invaders claimed a clear victory in a half-mile-long pond in Georgetown, MA, this week. Sadly, the visiting team got a little help from the home crowd, so-to-speak. For years the Pentucket Pond Committee has worked by appointment of the Georgetown Conservation Commission to keep a marauding fresh water seaweed called fanwort from turning this 90-acre waterbody into a swamp. When the weed grows freely, the dead vegetation build-up causes decay that consumes dissolved oxygen fish need to breath. It's a process called hypoxia. So, the thought was: if fanwort grows unchecked fish die.
The primary means of combating fanwort is salting the water with a floride-based chemical called Sonar. A brief internet search turned up this Cornell study over collateral damage concerns from possible misuse of Sonar, but few other problems with the weed-killer. Such misuse was among the reasons the Georgetown Con Com and the state's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program were annually concerned over the Sonar program in Pentucket. The bigger problem hobbling the Pentucket Sonar program has more to do with the tiny fish below called the bridle shiner, which takes refuge in the dense thickets of fanwort. Apparently, fanwort isn't bad for all fish. (It's possible that the hypoxia kills big fish more than minnows. We're not sure.)
The state has taken a shine to the shiner because its numbers have mysteriously plummeted in some East Coast waters and it's considered endangered in Massachusetts. In the Chesapeake Bay, they've disappeared entirely. In an email circulated last week, the Pentucket Pond Committee chairman indicated he was growing weary of “butting heads” with the state and local government. This year, when funding was cut for the Sonar treatments, the chairman announced his seat was open and he is moving south. Presumably, fanwort will now run amok in Pentucket Pond and what was once a decent local fishing hole will now be home to a rare minnow, a whole lot of seaweed and little else. In some respects it comes down to this or this.
Take a monent and click on the two links just above. This should be a no-brainer: get the Sonar and get busy in Pentucket Pond before fishing season starts, right? This is not a no-brainer. Groups like the pond committee are fighting all manner of invasive species all over the country often with government support. This link says there are 19 federally funding projects in the Stimulus Plan costing the $38m, but Recovery.gov lists 92 such projects under a search for “invasive species”. It's anyone's guess what's actually being spent each year to combat invasive species, or how it's being spent, through the Stimulus Plan or any of the many other federal, state and local programs. The federal government is not famed for its attention to detail when it comes to spending tax dollars and effectively combating invasive species is all about the details. Not just in the application of herbicides like Sonar, which is handled by licensed contractors, but in any number of biological, chemical and mechanical programs out there. Ecosystems are very complex, all sorts of long term factors come into play when you start fiddling with them.
What we're trying to say is, perhaps Pentucket is not the first such effort we're going to see abandon in the next few years and maybe it's not such a bad thing. There will be a big price to pay. Places like Pentucket will change dramatically, like this image of an unknown pond in Idaho neutered by another invasive called milfoil. But eventually, these ecosystems will find a new balance and the fight will be over. We can survey the landscape to get a better idea of what we're battling. If you want government to get involved, the few gains in beating back invasive species have come from biological controls. Fund those efforts more vigorously.
In the meantime, if well-meaning people like the Pentucket Pond Committee want to volunteer their efforts, environmental regulators are sure to look a little more kindly on hand-to-hand combat like the folks pictured here, as opposed to WMD like Sonar. This country's open ended “wars” on ill defined entities like drugs, poverty and terrorism are short on victories and definition but long on expense and frustration. War may not have been formally declared on invasive species in this country, but it's being waged and lost nonetheless. You need only to look at some of the headlines listed in the column at right on this page, to see how this war is going. You can more easily argue the merits of continuing any of the three other battles, but popular wisdom has it that fooling with Mother Nature is not nice, let alone declaring war on her. Invasive species may be a man-made problem, but these plants and animals are still very much a part of nature.
Feathered Foe Fouls Flights, Farms 01.21.10
As bad as we've come to view invasive species as being, every once in a while along comes one that upsets convention. European starlings are a marvel in flight, not bad looking either. They came to this country when some genius decided the US should be home to every bird mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. As mentioned in the Opinion page today, they have gained a few fans in this country. As this piece points out they are also something of a flight risk when they get sucked into jet turbines. So ,the government just green-lighted a plan to permit poisoning of several thousand of the things in Pennsylvania. These massive flocks of birds are known to also make a mess out of an occasional corn field. Not everyone is in love with them. We bring it up here in a shameless attempt to increase traffic on the Invasive page.
Ship Water Gets Scrubbing 11.26.09
Recently the Boston Globe had a piece on invasive species which talked of efforts to clean ship ballast water before the ship takes it on—ship ballast water being a likely source of most of the marine invasives in this country. The idea in the article was that water born invasives can't hitch a ride in ship's ballast if you clean the water before the ship takes it on. The article was fine up to this line: All this has sent engineers, scientists, and coastal resource managers scrambling to find ways to deal with these marine invaders before it's too late.
Take a look around you folks, it is too late. Invasives are like global warming: we're a day late and a dollar short on this problem. Unlike global warming, invasives are a natural process (Indeed, you could almost argue that global warming is a natural process, but we won't go there today.) Whether it's Kudzu climbing all over Alabama or zebra mussels clogging industrial cooling systems in the Great Lakes, invasives are plants and animals A.K.A. FOOD!.
Is it unreasonable to think that at some point another species is going to discover that milfoil which is turning ponds into swamps, is edible? I offer up the invasive greencrabs which make great bait for our native blackfish which make great fried fish sandwiches for our native filet-o-fish-o-philes.
I don't mean to belittle the invasives problem this planet is facing. Invasive plants and animals kill off competeing plant and animals and that reduces biodiversity. But I'd like to argue that some well intending folks misunderstand biodiversity. It's wonderful to have all these species but we've already done so much damage to this planet that biodiversity will suffer considerably greater reductions in the years to come. It can't be avoided.
So, the question becomes how much effort do we put into curbing invasives when natural forces will eventually smooth out these vicious populations swings while we devote ourselves to more productive or promising pursuits, like non-point source pollution or global warming or proliferation of plastics or proliferation of poisons.To illustrate my point NY's Suffolk Times today had a piece about folks striping invasive phragmites A.K.A. reeds out of an Orient, NY pond which is being choked off by the invasive. I've also spoken with folks ripping waterchestnut out of Boston's Charles River and other folks pulling milfoil out of tiny Mill Pond in NH. Invariable their enjoyment of the waterbody is driving their effort as much as environmental concerns. But is it the best thing over all for the environment?
To illustrate my point NY's Suffolk Times today had a piece about folks striping invasive phragmites A.K.A. reeds out of an Orient, NY pond which is being choked off by the invasive. I've also spoken with folks ripping waterchestnut out of Boston's Charles River and other folks pulling milfoil out of tiny Mill Pond in NH. Invariable their enjoyment of the waterbody is driving their effort as much as environmental concerns. But is it the best thing over all for the environment?