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Author: Jennifer Forman Orth

Invading your brain since 2002.


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Monday, July 31, 2006

100 103 100 Worst Oregonian Invaders  

The Oregon Department of Agriculture is reporting that the state has recently updated their list of 100 worst invaders. Three new species have been added to the list: rock snot (Didymosphenia geminata, misspelled as Didymosphenia geminate in the article), Amur goby (Rhinogobius brunneus) and granulate ambrosia beetle (Xylosandrus crassiusculus).

Perhaps more interesting is what got bumped off. The press release states that "Getting off the list is more difficult than getting on." but since they're keeping it fixed at 100 species, I'm not sure how that is true. Removed from the list are: Japanese oyster drill (Ceratostoma inornatum), noted as a "minor pest that can be controlled," and blueberry maggot (Rhagoletis mendax) and glassy-winged sharpshooter (Homalodisca coagulata), two species that were deemed to not be a problem in natural habitats. You can view the entire list of 100 baddies here, but unfortunately it has not yet been updated. Hopefully when it is, Oregon will let their website visitors keep track of the species that got removed.

Negative bonus points to every organization that puts out a press release before they've actually put out the product the press release is about.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

More melodrama than an episode of Family Law...  

The ISW has featured a lot of horror stories about plants and animals, and that's to be expected, given the subject matter here. However, it is rare that a story is so awful that I actually decide to give up and go to sleep rather than try to summarize the atrocities. Here we have one of those stories, posted at allAfrica.com, about the problems caused by the intentionally introduced shrub known as mathenge (Prosopis juliflora). While this plant has been blogged in several other posts at the ISW, none of the articles has been as bad as this. To summarize:

  • A woman's goats and sheep ate mathenge pods, then died of starvation after their teeth fell out.
  • The same woman lost her finger and has a paralyzed hand after she injured said hand on a mathenge thorn.
  • A man can no longer enjoy drinking with his friends because he is unable to make his way home from said festivities without coming into contact with the horrid mathenge plants (and, I assume, risking the loss of his digits).
(Ok, that last one is a bit weak, but it doesn't matter because anyone reading this will forever be plagued by images of toothless goats.)

Some fact-checking is in order here. The PIER program did a thorough risk assessment of mathenge (which we call "mesquite" here in North America) and they do note a study where goats were fed the pods of this species, leading to "partial anorexia, depression, salivation, twitching, dehydration and bloody diarrhoea" (how do you tell if a goat is depressed?). This article from GISP notes that wounds caused by mathenge thorns are more prone to infection, but doesn't say why. The Botanical Dermatology Database notes the wax on the thorns can cause serious eye injury, and this post over at the Bike Mojo message board provides further anecdotal evidence of poisonous thorns.

Sounds like Mr. Lekakimon was smart to cut down on his social drinking. But negative points to The Nairobi Nation for the dramatic overkill. Sheesh.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Progressor Lupines  

Mongabay has a story about an invasive, purple-flowered plant in Iceland that they call a "purple menace"...but it's not purple loosestrife. Turns out Alaskan lupines (Lupinus nootkatensis), introduced for land reclamation and also for ornament, have escaped from cultivation and naturalized into the Icelandic landscape. Unfortunately, they are fairly aggressive invaders, often interrupting the normal recovery of a site and preventing native plants from establishing. Since lupines are nitrogen-fixers, their growth alter soil nutrient levels, further tipping the balance away from native species that evolved without that extra nitrogen boost. Alaskan lupine is just one of 10,000 different plant species that are known to have been introduced to Iceland.






Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mixed Signals  

BBC News is reporting that signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) have been found in the River Tweed in Scotland. The North American crayfish have been in the U.K. for decades, but the presence of physical barriers was thought to have been enough to prevent them from getting into the Tweed. The Tweed is home to a major salmon fishery, and officials are greatly concerned about the crayfish displacing the salmon. One biologist, noting that there are no native crayfish species in the tweed, is calling for a crayfish-targeted biological control to be introduced to combat the invader. For more details about the story, and to see two kids who caught one of the signal crayfish (Scottish accent translation not provided), check out this video.






Tuesday, July 25, 2006

We Have A Winner!  

Update: Congratulations to coco_beans for the winning the ISW's *Your Punny Title Here* contest! The winning blog post title, "Starling for attention", has now been installed properly at the top of the post, to be heralded by all for the life of the ISW! coco_beans, being far from Vermont, chose to receive an "I've been Knotty this year" magnet as a prize.

Honorable mentions go out to CalGal for "StarLingo habla ici" and an anonymous commenter for the double punny "Eagle reports on Teaching Starlings." Thanks to everyone for entering. A new *Your Punny Title Here* Contest will be coming up in August!

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Koi Blog Pondering  

Maine Today, among others, has this story about a Maine restaurant owner who had his koi (Cyprinus carpio) confiscated after someone snitched on him. While the koi had been living in a tank in the restaurant for more than a decade, Maine made the possession or import of koi illegal a few years ago (if anyone can point me to the regulation or statute for this I would appreciate it!). While this story leans heavily on the purported innocence of the perpetrator, it seems like someone used to dealing with things like health inspections should not have assumed the Maine Warden Service was a joke. Some of the details of the case are also not clear in the article, such as how the owner could be charged with "importing freshwater fish without a permit" if he purchased the fish prior to the state ban.

The confiscated fish, for those interested, were transported to a pet store in New Hampshire that has agreed to let the owner buy them back. He'll be sending them off to crazy liberal koi-loving Massachusetts, of course :-).

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Weekend Blog Blogging  

This past week in invasive species blogging:

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Weekend Photoblogging  

Diagonality
Originally uploaded by urtica.

A nice red lily leaf beetle - this time in Quincy, MA. This is the first time I have seen one in southeastern Massachusetts. The pond it was at is adjacent to a residential area and I'm sure there are lots of Asian lilies planted there.






Friday, July 21, 2006

Drunken Eels  

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting that Asian swamp eels (Monopterus albus) are on the brink of entering Georgia's Chattahoochee River. The eels can now be found in several ponds adjacent to the river, a mere overflow pipe away from the Chattahoochee's marshland. Unfortunately, researchers have yet to find a good way to control the eels, who have been found to be piscicide-resistant, capable of long-term fasting, and able to survive out of water for extended periods.

Bonus points to the AJC for mentioning the genus of the eel, and triple bonus points for the heading "Alien eels slither close to Hooch." Hee. Tip of the virtual hat to the Protect Your Waters website for pointing to this article.






Thursday, July 20, 2006

Road Runners  

LiveScience has an interesting article about cane toads (Bufo marinus) adapting to life with humans in Australia. The article features a discussion of research, to be presented in an upcoming issue of the journal Biological Conservation, demonstrating that cane toads actively use roads and fencelines to travel. The toads prefer the cleared areas to the more natural ones where vegetation would just get in their way. The article ends with an interesting supposition: Why not let roadsides grow dense with vegetation, forcing more toads directly on the road and into the path of passing vehicles?

Bonus points to LiveScience for printing the scientific name of the toad (The ISW is giving out a lot of bonus points lately - could this be a smart new trend?)

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tangled Bank is Here!  

Have you checked out the latest edition of the Tangled Bank, a great source for your bio-blogger fix? You can read it over at Salto Sobrius. Lots of good science posts there.






Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Their Name Is Mud Too  

The Marin Independent Journal has this story about a project to eradicate Japanese mud snails (Batillaria attramentaria) invading San Francisco Bay. Researchers have put together a volunteer-driven effort to comb Loch Lomond Marina and remove the tiny snails (check out the accompanying photo for a shot of a mom and her 3-year-old daughter joining in!!). While the snail was first introduced to California decades ago, their arrival in San Fransisco Bay was recent enough that scientists think eradication is still a possibility.

Bonus points to the MIJ for including the scientific name of the snail. The ISW has posted many times about the New Zealand mud snail, but never the Japanese one.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Dodders of the Revolution  

Looks like an introduced species of the parasitic vine known as dodder is making a big splash on the west coast of the U.S. Over the past couple of weeks there have been various news blurbs about the spread of Japanese dodder (Cuscuta japonica) through California. According to this report from the Sacramento Bee, the species has now been found at more than 40 sites in Sacramento County, thanks to the efforts of the county's residents. In the midst of the surveys, officials discovered something significant: people from Native American and Chinese cultures have been cultivating the plant for its herbal properties. While it is certainly helpful to have identified a vector of transport for this invader, the surprising news that this chlorophyll-free, odd-looking species is being cultivated indicates that ridding the state of California of this species would be no easy task.

Bonus points to the Bee for printing the scientific name of the plant.

Update: Monique points to a group of excellent photos of Japanese dodder infestations. This plant is scary! Also, check out this post about less scary dodder species from Niches (and this post as well).






Sunday, July 16, 2006

Weekend Blog Blogging  

This past week in invasive species blogging:

  • The force that through has a very cool post about non-native lizards in Kansas. Who knew? (Thanks Paul!)
  • RXWildlife posts about A Pretty Problem - invasive Valerian.
  • Nutritious Blue Spray does some plant identification in New Jersey, and gets them all right (*love* that blog name!).

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Weekend Photoblogging (Now With Videoblogging!)  

Bad Chipmunk!
Originally uploaded by urtica.

This is the first time I've seen anything but a bird eating the berries of glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus). This little chipmunk was having quite a go at it - see video 1 and video 2 for details [Update - switched over to Google Video from YouTube, so there's less pixelation].






Friday, July 14, 2006

Ash Me No Questions  

The Akron Beacon Journal has a report about a group that is taking issue with the current plans to control the invasion of the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) in the Great Lakes region. The Lake Erie Allegheny Partnership for Biodiversity is made up of more than two dozen different local, state, and federal organizations. Their claim is that current EAB management practices, which involve wholesale removal of the ash trees surrounding an infestation, are causing irreparable damage to the environment. Instead of the current heavy machinery that is used, they advocates low-impact removal techniques. They also claim that the practice of creating quarantine zones to prevent removal of wood is doomed to fail.

The ISW, as a big fan of openness and public accountability, requests that the Lake Erie Allegheny Partnership for Biodiversity gets itself a website and posts the five-page opinion statement that is alluded to in the article.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Wipe Out!  

The University of California Riverside has put out a press release about some very interesting research from its Botany department. A recent paper by Hegde et al. in the journal Evolution provides molecular evidence that the plant known as "Wild Radish" in California (Raphanus sativus) is actually a hybrid between cultivated radish (same scientific name) and jointed charlock (R. raphanistrum, also frequently known as "wild radish"). What makes this research so intriguing is that neither of the parent species exist in the wild in California any longer - the hybrid has completely taken over and expanded its range to the point where it is considered an invasive species.

The research raises some interesting questions, such as what the hybrid status is in other parts of the U.S. (and the world) where both parents coexisted. Also, will the hybrid be given a different taxonomic status? Seems like a name change is in order.

Interested readers will want to check out the abstract.






Wednesday, July 12, 2006

BumbleUpon  

Back in April of this year, the ISW posted about efforts in Australia to legalize importation of the European bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) for use as greenhouse pollinators. Now The Independent is reporting that a recent similar study in Britain concluded that commercially introduced European bumblebees could indeed survive on their own if they escape into the British wilds. The authors of the study note that the commercial bumblebees (subspecies of B. terrestris, which is one of 25 species of bumblebees considered native to Britain) tended to be better at finding nectar than native bees, and even more alarming, were better at establishing new colonies. There is also concern that the commercial bumblebees will hybridize with native British species.

An abstract to the upcoming research article by Ings et al. can be found here.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Dedd Foxx  

Yahoo! News has a story about the impact of European red fox (Vulpes vulpes) control programs in Western Australia. The government, concerned that the removal of foxes from the ecosystem may have led to an increase in the number of feral cats, have now announced a $16 million AUS program to control the cats, which are apparently a bit smarter than foxes when it comes to taking the poison bait. As state environment minister Mark McGowan notes, "There is a strong suspicion that this is due to an increase in cat numbers, as a direct consequence of the decrease in fox numbers."

Suspicion eh? The fox control program has been in place for several years (see this older ISW post). A quick Googling brought up this press release from CSIRO, where a researcher brings up the possible positive effects on feral cat populations if foxes are removed from the ecosystem. There is also this report from the Australian Department of the Environment and Heritage that provides more information, including several examples of expanding feral cat pops. Both refer to work done back in the late 1990s!. Hmm...does Dr. Molsher get to say "I told you so!" now?

Update: As commenter Roadkill Goanna points out, Tasmania can no longer claim to be fox-free. This article from The Australian notes that foxes have been in the country since at least 1998. Thanks Roadkill! (never thought I would type that phrase :-) )

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Last Post 'til Winner  

This is your last reminder that the deadline for the *Your Punny Title Here* contest is tonight at midnight. Seems like the ISW has had a lot of new visitors lately, what with mentions in unbossed (with crossposting to Daily Kos), Universal Hub, Pharyngula, Nature, and now Blogger's Blogs of Note. Welcome new readers, and feel free to provide the regulars with a bit of competition. If I get enough good entries (one per person please) I'll give out more than one prize.

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It's About Darn Time!  

...sheesh Blogger, and I've only been a loyal user for 4.25 years. :-)






Sunday, July 09, 2006

Weekend Blog Blogging  

This past week in invasive species blogging:

  • Walking the Berkshires posts about finding Japanese barberry in an unusual place: a painting depicting the Civil War. There's also a follow-up post called "Barberrians at Gettysburg."
  • bootstrap analysis does some indoor cat blogging about feral cats.
  • far outliers notices the irony in the fact that American fish are invasive in Asia while Asian fish are causing problems in America.

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Weekend Photoblogging  

bug of the day
Originally uploaded by urtica.

Talk about a charismatic microfauna! The lily leaf beetle (Lilioceris lilii) is an interesting invasive species, and not just because of its striking red exterior. Accidentally introduced through the import of ornamental lily bulbs, the beetles, now found in Canada, New England and New York, will destroy any Asian lilies (Lilium spp.) in your yard if left to their own devices (note that this does not include the daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.).

Maybe you are thinking that there is an obvious solution here: don't plant Asian lilies, and the lily leaf beetles will just go away. As usual, it is not that simple. Not only will they feed on bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), a common weed of yards and parks, but they will reproduce on native lily species as well.

This week's episode of the PBS series The Victory Garden, titled "Annual Pleasures," features a discussion of planting lilies and includes photo I took of a lily leaf beetle back in 2003. Since then, I have gotten rid of all of the Asian lilies that were growing in my yard, but as the photo above demonstrates, the beetles are still hanging around.






Friday, July 07, 2006

Moth Balls  

Sorry, have to go off on a local rant here. Maybe folks from outside of New England will stick around just to sympathize...

[rant] Last month the Massachusetts legislature approved two big, fat, multi-million dollar pork-filled spending bills. In one of the bills was $150,000 earmarked for a program to develop a biological control program (.pdf) for the European winter moth (Operophtera brumata) that has been causing massive tree defoliations up and down the Massachusetts coast. The moth populations exploded a couple of years ago and have been gradually spreading inland (plenty of them last winter at my house in MetroWest Framingham).

My beef is not so much with Governor Romney's subsequent line item veto of the money, but the way it was handled. Here is Gov. Romney's response when asked about the veto:

"No one came up to me and said 'Hey look, this is so important,'" Romney said on Saturday. "If it's that important, UMass ought to be able to find a way to pay for that in their normal budget."

What an uninformed response! UMass Amherst and their Cooperative Extensions program have been at the forefront of educational outreach for the winter moth invasion since the problem first became known. They should be congratulated, not shamed. As Dr. Elkinton, the lead scientist for the proposed program, noted in an interview over at BostonChannel.com, "This is a threat to the entire state of Massachusetts." Implying that the program is something UMass Amherst should pay for is ridiculous.

As if Gov. Romney's response wasn't embarrassing enough, Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr had to get into the mix. From his June 28th column in the Boston Herald:

"But what’s Mitt supposed to do when they pass these lard-ridden budgets? Consider the $150,000 to UMass to study the winter moth. Out in Happy Valley, this is being portrayed as the new Manhattan Project, but the reality is, everything you need to know about moths can be summed up in two words.

Moth balls.

You buy enough moth balls, and you won’t have to worry about the winter moth, or the summer moth either, for that matter."

Wha??? Howie, please. It's one thing for the Governor to make an off-the-cuff snide remark, but if you're going to write about a topic in your column, please do some fact-checking. The fumes from moth balls only work if they can build up inside sealed containers. They aren't going to do a darned thing for the winter moth caterpillars devouring your trees. I found this out in five minutes with some help from Google, apparently more effort than you were willing to put into learning about it.

With over $200 million in pork projects, why is the winter moth being scapegoated? Maybe because the impact of the moth isn't being felt that far inland yet. The Senator and Representative that earmarked the money are from coastal towns of Gloucester and Falmouth, respectively. I have a feeling when people in Wellesley (Howie!) and Belmont (Mitt!) start noticing that none of their trees have leaves, and their houses and cars are covered in caterpillar poop, they will start paying attention. That shouldn't be too long from now, since we're already seeing high numbers of moths inland. Unfortunately, repeated defoliation of trees leads to...you guessed it: tree mortality. Winter moths aren't picky either - they'll go for oaks, maples, cherries, and even spruce trees.

The extent of the invasion and the difficulty in distinguishing the European winter moth from several similar but native species means that the chance of eradicating them, if it was ever possible, has long since passed. Perhaps a biological control program modeled after successful programs in Canada is exactly what we should be aiming for. [/rant]

The ISW previously blogged about the European winter moth in April 2005 and May 2003.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!!!  

Back in January 2005, the ISW posted about the Gambian pouch rat (Cricetomys gambianus) invasion in the Florida Keys. Now the Miami Herald is reporting that an eradication program is underway to remove the rodents from Grassy Key and one other island. The big concern at this point is that the giant rats, if not dealt with, will eventually manage to reach Key Largo or even the Florida Everglades and beyond. The current eradication method of choice: traps with poison bait.

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You Can't Win If You Don't Play  

Just a reminder that there's a blog post getting buried down here that has no title! Submit the best punny title and win a prize (you don't have to be from Vermont to enjoy the cool invasive species sticker you'll get!). Contest ends next Tuesday, so get those entries in.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Watching the Detectives  

The Jackson Hole News & Guide has an excellent report about biologists using detective work to determine when lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) were first introduced into Yellowstone Lake, the largest body of water in Yellowstone National Park. Lake trout are native to the Great Lakes region, but have been artificially introduced throughout the rest of the U.S. Ironically, while they are considered invasive in some bodies of water, lake trout were nearly extirpated from the Upper Great Lakes in the mid-20th century.

By examining the composition of the otolith, a structure found in the inner ear of the trout, the researchers can estimate how long a fish has been in a particular body of water. The otolith, also called an "ear stone," grows in successive layers as the fish ages, so that outmost layers are formed when the fish is oldest. Its chemical composition includes the elements calcium and strontium, and the ratio of these two elements can be calculated and compared over several parts of the otolith. A significant change in the strontium:calcium ratio indicates the fish was displaced (or purposely introduced) to a new body of water.

The researchers identified two years, 1986 and 1994, when the Yellowstone Lake lake trout were introduced. They also used the strontium:calcium ratio to determine that the fish originated from nearby Lewis Lake, which doesn't sound quite so insidious until you consider that the two lakes are separated by the Continental Divide. :-) Lake trout have been in Lewis Lake since the 1800s.

For more details about this research project, and about efforts to conserve the native Yellowstone cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri), check out the spring edition (v.14, #12, .pdf) of the journal Yellowstone Science.






Monday, July 03, 2006

Starling For Attention (We Have a Winner!!!)  

If you haven't figured it out already from the title, the Invasive Species Weblog is having a contest. Think up the best punny title for the post below and win a prize! The prize for this round is: A cool "Pests in your lake" decal from the Vermont DEC, plus an optional one-day Vermont park pass, if you're near Vermont and are so inclined. Post your entry (one per person) here or email it to me via invasiveblog AT knottybits.com

Contest ends at midnight EDT on July 11. The Invasive Species Weblog is not affiliated with the Vermont DEC, this contest is just a fun way of donating my "massive" profits from the ISW store to a good cause.

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The post:

According to this story from the Berkshire Eagle, an artist has created an exhibit called "Teach the Starlings" that consists of a birdhouse and a feeder that aims to teach starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) to speak the name of one of the men who first introduced the birds to the U.S. over a century ago. When a bird enters the birdhouse or visits the feeder, a motion-tripped sensor activates the recording, which repeats "Shieffelin" over and over. The artist, Brian Collier, notes that starlings can learn to mimic human sounds. He also notes "Most people think I'm a nut" :-). I think it's a pretty cool modern art exhibit - what about you?

Update: Congratulations to coco_beans for the winning contest entry "Starling for attention", which has now been installed properly at the top of this post, to be heralded by all for the life of the ISW! coco_beans chose to receive a "I've been Knotty this year" magnet as a prize. Thanks to everyone for entering, a new *Your Punny Title Here* Contest will be coming up in August.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Weekend Photoblogging  

Crackberry
Originally uploaded by urtica.

Some pretty Himalayan blackberry (Rubus discolor) shrubs in flower and with developing fruit. Too bad these invaders practically dominated parts of the trails I walked in Bellevue, WA - long stands rising eight to nine feet tall in some places. In many places the thick canes were cut back to maintain the trail.

At least the honeybees seemed to be enjoying them. If I had been there in July instead of June, I would have been too :-).






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