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Author: Jennifer Forman Orth

Invading your brain since 2002.


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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tangled Bank is Here!  

A new edition of the Tangled Bank blog carnival is up at Ouroboros, check it out!

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

You Can't Win If You Don't Play!  

Have you entered the contest yet?

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Seed No Evil  

Oregon Live has a story about current efforts by the Oregon Department of Agriculture to regulate wild birdseed. The ODA wants the authority over the content of wild birdseed, to address the contamination of the seed by agricultural weeds and invasive plants. The state's House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee will take up the issue this Tuesday. According to this brief note at the Capital Press, they are also expected to consider a related bill that would require wildflower seed packaging to be labeled with information including the presence of noxious weeds.

Earlier this month, the general issue of birdseed contaminants came up on the ma-eppc listserve, you can read the comments here (the top one is from me).

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Weekend Photoblogging  

Mute Swans (Wild)
Originally uploaded by Rick Leche.

I've got mute swans on the brain...and there are lots of them in the Creative Commons pool over at Flickr, including the lovely photo above, taken by Rick Leche.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Adopt-A-Swan  

The Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel is reporting that the state's Natural Resources Board has decided to employ an experimental adoption program in their efforts to control invasive mute swans (Cygnus olor). Residents that are interested in sponsoring a swan must be willing to pay to neuter and band the bird. The move comes in response to the staunch opposition to current mute swan control programs, which include culling and addling eggs to prevent them from hatching.

I am not aware of the details of the program, but I wonder if it will be possible for enough of the swans to get "adopted" such that reproduction virtually ceases. As soon as I can locate more information (including the cost of adoption), I'll post it here. In the meantime, if there's a Wisconsin mute swan you've had your eye on, be sure to register with the state by June 1st 2007.

Update: bootstrap analysis has weighed in on the mute swan adoption plan, definitely worth a read.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Flutter By  

While we hear a lot about moths in the world of invasive species, we very rarely hear anything about butterflies. So it was with interest that I read this Pest Report from the Phytosanitary Alert System announcing that the Lime Swallowtail (Papilio demoleus) was discovered last June in Puerto Rico (.pdf). The Lime Swallowtail, native to Asia and Africa, is a pest of...you guessed it...citrus species, and it appears to be following citrus crops around the world. Puerto Rico is the second confirmed occurrence of this species in the New World, the first being in the Dominican Republic back in 2004 (.pdf). The main concern of the arrival of this butterfly in the New World is the potential threat to citrus crops (not surprisingly, Florida is concerned), but the 2004 article above does note that there are New World Papilio butterflies that could feel the heat of competition, and there is some concern that the caterpillars will feed on wild plants in the Rutaceae (citrus family).

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Quagga Mussel Update  

You can add Arizona to the list of states where the Quagga mussel has been found (see update here for details).

Meanwhile, Colorado asks "Why not us?" with an interesting article in the Denver Post.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cull Of The Wild  

The Toledo Blade is reporting that the focus on management of the emerald ash borer beetle (Agrilus planipennis) is having unintended effects on Ohio's forests. A researcher at Kent State University, Constance Hausman, has found that forests where infested ash trees have been removed are being invaded by non-native plant species like garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense). The likely suspect is physical disturbance being caused by the heavy-duty tree-removal equipment. The article also mentions the work of University of Toledo researcher Elliot Tramer, who notes that the prevalence of ash borer beetles has been a boon for red-bellied woodpeckers.

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Got Class?  

If you're in the Boston area, interested in learning about invasive species, and are a grad student or advanced undergrad with a biology background, you will be happy to know that there is still time to register for my course, BIOL 648: Invasive Species: Ecology, Evolution, and Management. Classes don't start at UMass Boston until Jan. 29th, and in case you haven't heard, tuition there is (relatively) cheap :-).

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Even More Crossing The Line  

News from NAS Alerts today that Quagga mussels (Dreissena rostriformis bugensis) have again been found past the 100th Meridian Line, this time in California. The mussels were discovered in Lake Havasu, one site in Riverside, and a single specimen in San Bernadino. If you check this USGS map you'll see that the California sites are located along the Colorado River, just one USGS hydrologic unit away from the Nevada infestation uncovered a couple of weeks ago. Yikes.

Interested readers may want to check out this report from the L.A. Times.

Update: Add Arizona to the list of invaded states, via Lake Mohave (here's a nice map of the tri-state area).

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Friday, January 19, 2007

The Fighting Irish  

Trinity College in Dublin recently debuted a very nice internet resource for invasive plant information. The Alien plants in Ireland database, which contains over 700 species, is searchable by taxonomy, location, and invasive status. You can search for species by Latin name or in English (and supposedly French, German, and Dutch too, but I could not get those to work). The entry for each plant displays its name in multiple languages along with an extensive amount of biological information including growth form, reproductive stats (pollinators, seed dimensions) and habitat types. It is obvious that a lot of effort went into making this database, and it is sure to be a useful tool both in Ireland and around the world.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Real Cliffhanger  

It's time for another "Your Punny Title Here!" contest. Come up with the best, punniest title for this post and you will win a 2007 Invasive Species Weblog Wall Calendar. One entry per person, leave a non-anonymous comment below...

Contest: Your Punny Title Here! IV - Update 3/12/2007: Congratulations to tom at Curly Tales of War Pigs for his winning entry, now installing at the title of this post. Unfortunately, tom must not want his super-snazzy, if now slightly outdated ISW calendar, because he has ignored my efforts to contact him. So the first person to leave a comment or to email me saying that s/he wants the calendar will get it, them's the rules.


The Honolulu Advertiser says that volunteers in Oahu, Hawaii are finally reporting some success at managing the invasive plant known as bush beardgrass (Schizachyrium condensatum). Unfortunately, the grass is a wily invader, producing proliferous amounts of seed and often spreading onto steep cliffs that are difficult for the volunteers to climb. Native to tropical America, bush beardgrass was first discovered on Oahu back 2002, and can also be found on Kauai and the main island of Hawaii. The Oahu volunteers are hopeful but realistic about the prospects of eradicating it.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Enn P Ah  

Local NPR affiliate WBUR featured a story yesterday about the unexpected success that the hemlock wooly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) has had in Massachusetts. While scientists predicted the adelgid would not be able to survive the cold New England winters, turns out the winters haven't been very cold the past few years. As a result, hemlock trees are suffering as researchers scramble to find biological and chemicals controls to combat the tiny, sap-sucking beasts. You can listen to the story via this page, and be sure not to overlook the photo gallery and audio slideshow in the "Related Links" section.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Ultra Marine  

If you're into mitten crabs, caulerpa and colonial tunicates, you'll want to check out the Fifth International Conference on Marine Bioinvasions, to be held at MIT this May 21-24. Judging by the 2003 and 2005 versions, the conference is likely to be very well-attended. Unfortunately, it is also going to be fairly pricey, unless you've got a sponsor ($325, with no daily rate. At least they have a significant student discount: $125!).

Those of you working in the field of marine invasiions should note that the deadline for abstracts has been extended to January 19th. So get going!

Thanks to Jeff for sending in an email about the conference.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

New in the Literature  

Some light reading for the holiday weekend (in the USA anyway):

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Weekend Photoblogging  

Yellow Starthistle
Originally uploaded by urtica.

From the UMass Boston Greenhouses: one of many yellow starthistles (Centaurea solstitialis) being grown for a research project.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Got The Guts?  

According to this press release, the Asian longhorned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis) has been targeted for a new genetic study, but not for the reasons that you might think. The project, spearheaded by Penn State University, aims to sequence the gut flora of the beetle to determine why they are so good at destroying trees. While other wood-boring beetle species eat only decaying wood, the Asian longhorned beetle also consumes wood from the healthy, living parts of trees. Scientists are speculating that the beetles may have microbes in their gut that produce enzymes to help break down the components of wood. The U.S. Department of Energy is hoping the study may lead to new developments in the processing of biofuels. I wonder whether they'll be sequencing samples from introduced populations as well as populations from the native range?

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Breaking the Barrier  

Looks like the 100th Meridian Initiative, whose main goal is to keep zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) from spreading into the western USA, might need to rename themselves to, say, the "120th Meridian Initiative." An NAS Alert came out this week reporting that zebra Quagga mussels have been found in Lake Mead, Nevada. Even worse, those specimens turned out to be just a few of thousands living in the lake, meaning that they came from an established population. All the more depressing considering this report (.pdf) prepared for the Initiative back in 2004, which concluded that the risk of zebra mussel establishment was low because 1) so many boaters clean their equipment and 2) few boaters come to Lake Mead from areas where zebra mussels are already found. The mussels have already been intercepted several times over the past few years on boats that were on their way to Lake Mead.

This raises some interesting questions about the root of the invasion. Were zebra Quagga mussels already in Lake Mead when that report came out? Are existing methods to clean boats not sufficient to prevent the introduction of adult zebra and Quagga mussels and their veligers? Could other vectors besides boaters be responsible (the risk assessment does not mention divers, for example)? The 100th Meridian Initiative has put up a web page where they've been actively posting updates on the story - if any new information becomes available I will update this post.

Update 01/12/2007:Turns out the mussels in question were misidentified - a lab investigation has classified them as the related Quagga mussel (Dreissena rostriformis bugensis). Perhaps more of a surprise since the known distribution of Quaggas in North America is much smaller than that of their congeners. The updated NAS Alert is here.

Update 1/26/07: More Quaggas found nearby in California and Arizona.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Calendar Gal  

The Plant Conservation Alliance's Alien Plant Working Group has put out their 2007 "Weeds Gone Wild" calendar as a pdf you can download and print out. And...surprise!...my photos are featured in March, April and August. Gotta love Creative Commons licensing :-).

Or, if you are feeling too lazy to print out your own calendar, consider purchasing the 2007 Invasive Species Weblog Wall Calendar. It's glossy, semi-professional-looking, and spiral-bound, and all profits I make from the sale of the calendars (as for any products from the ISW store) go to charitable invasive-species causes.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Birdmuda  

The Royal Gazette is reporting that this year's Christmas Bird Count on the island of Bermuda turned up more non-native birds than ever before. The Bermuda Audubon Society, which organized the count, notes that native species now make up less than half of the island's birds (based on total number of birds, not the number of species). The decline in native species is being attributed to habitat loss not just on Bermuda, but also in parts of America that are home to species that migrate south to Bermuda each year. You can actually go check out the raw data yourself on the Audubon Society's website...I count 931 house sparrows, 1359 starlings, and 1005 kiskadees.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Weekend Blog Blogging  

This past week in invasive species blogging:

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Bees, Bees Everywhere!  

Michael K. writes in with a pointer to this doc (.pdf) from the California Department of Food and Agriculture regarding the introduction of the bumblebee Bombus impatiens to California as a crop pollinator. The proposal is in response to a dearth of available honeybees (Apis mellifera) to do the job, due to problems with the Varroa mite (bumblebees are not susceptible to the Varroa mite, but do of course have their own parasites).

The study covers a wide variety of potential positives and negatives that could result from the bumblebee's introduction. A risk assessment done by a consulting firm is included in the appendix. Since the bees are being used for crop pollination, it would be impossible to guarantee that the introduced individuals won't escape into the wild. Instead, the suggestion is to minimize contact through placement only in "highly agricultural areas" and by limiting the duration of their time in the field, including "proper disposal of the colonies after their field use is terminated." Does that mean what I think it means? Sucks to be a bee.

While B. impatiens is native to the eastern USA, it is not considered native to California, which has 24 native Bombus species. This raises an interesting question: Is it better, from an ecological perspective, to have the European honeybee or Bombus terrestris? The bumblebee will be at risk to hybridize with native relatives, though the document claims that the chances of hybridization are minimal (see Appendix p. 17). Other issues to consider are competition for wild pollen and nectar sources, and potential associations between the bees and non-native plants. The risk assessment says "The risk of competition is deemed to be less than significant," in part because the time that the non-native bumblebees would be allowed to forage is limited, and also because of the intention to keep the bumblebees restricted to cropland (see Appendix p. 15).

Public comments on this topic are being accepted through January 19th, 2007. Interested readers can learn more about non-native bumblebees in previous ISW posts.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

On the Scale  

Fox News posted a story not too long ago about yet another invasive species in Barbados. In addition to dealing with the problems caused by the invasion of giant African land snails (Achatina fulica), the island of Barbados is currently dealing with a scale insect (Icerya genistae) that attacks over a dozen different types of plants, from wild species to crops like peanut, pepper and lettuce. The origin of the scale insect, which has also been discovered recently in Florida, is still unclear. While early 20th century records are known from Brazil, more research needs to be done to confirm the insect's native range. Meanwhile, the major crop damage being caused by the scale has led to island-wide treatment with insecticides. More information is available in this press release from the Barbados government.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Oh Pine  

Last week the ISW posted about some Australian pines (Casuarina equisetifolia) that have been afforded the perks of historical status in Florida. Turns out the town of Gulf Stream is not the only location dealing with the state's labeling of this species as invasive. NBC2 News is reporting that the island of Sanibel is rebelling against state recommendations to remove their Australian pines. It is not any affection for the trees that has led to the decision, but rather the excessive cost of removal, which can run upwards of $1500 per tree. For now, the city is focusing on getting rid of the trees that threaten utilities or could cause problems on evacuation routes - Aussie pines on private property can be left alone. In 2003 Florida's Palm Beach County had to do some backpedaling after making it compulsory to remove Australian pines and other invasive trees from private property.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Possumbilities  

Today the ISW adds a new entry to the "make lemons from lemonade" section of invasive species management: entrepreneurs in New Zealand making fur products out of the invasive brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula). The possums, introduced from Australia back in the 1800s, are now so numerous on New Zealand that "designers who use their fur are seen as national heroes" (hah!).

The full story is in The Independent. It's worth a read just to laugh at the thought of fashionistas using possum fur as a substitute for polar bear fur (!!) and wearing lime green possum fur bikinis and other unmentionables (NSFW link here if you must see). I guess it's better than the broad-spectrum poisons sometime employed to control the animals, but let's be real: it's called the fur industry for a reason. The majority of designers are doing this to make money, not to eradicate the possums...even if they are calling it "eco fur." Note also this article (.pdf) in an ecological journal from 1982, recognizing the risk of "crashing the market" by overharvesting and hypothesizing about maintaining a sustainable harvest.

Thanks to biosparite for sending in a link to the article, and to monopolist for coming up with the title.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Nantucketry  

Islands are interesting habitats from an invasive species perspective - little chunks of land to which there are few vectors of introduction. States, provinces, even countries might act like they are islands, but their borders are virtually ignored by nonnative plants and animals.

This is one of the reasons why the Electronic Field Guide to the Invasive Plants of Nantucket is so interesting. On first glance, it reads like a who's who of invasive plant fact sheets. But it is worth a closer look, and not just because I am one of the authors of the project :-).

The 78 plant species currently listed were subject to a risk assessment modeled after the one completed by the state of Massachusetts (.pdf), but focused on Nantucket. One of the most interesting things, to me, is to compare the resulting list to the one compiled for the whole state. For example, there are species listed as invasive by the state of Massachusetts that have never been found on Nantucket Island, like glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus) and lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria). Why are they not on Nantucket? Are conditions inhospitable or are there no vectors of introduction? Certainly special attention needs to be paid to prevent these known invaders from becoming established on the island.

There are also species categorized as invasive on Nantucket that are not considered a problem by the state of Massachusetts, like saltspray rose (Rosa rugosa) and white poplar (Populus alba). Also, we include pitch pine (Pinus rigida - likely a controversial listing since pitch pine is native to Massachusetts but not to Nantucket. Terms like "widespread" and "dense stands" can take on a different meaning when the area being evaluated is an island covering less than 50 square miles.

You can explore the guide on your own using the Search link on the website (left side of the page). Of course, the usual disclaimer must appear here: The plant list compiled for the Electronic Field Guide to the Invasive Plants of Nantucket has no legal status.

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