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Author: Jennifer Forman Orth

Invading your brain since 2002.


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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Not So Smooth Sailing  

New Zealand appears to have avoided a potential fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) incursion thanks to a smart-thinking yacht owner. According to this report at Scoop, Biosecurity NZ officials were called to a marina in Auckland earlier this February when said yacht owner noticed the ants following a trip that included a stop in the Caribbean, where it is thought that the ants hitched a ride. The officials think the infestation was contained with insecticide treatments but are going to continue monitoring the yacht just to be sure. This story is just begging to be anthropomorphized (no pun intended) - I picture the fire ants hiding out until they thought the coast was clear, only to be confronted by backpack pesticide sprayer-gun-toting biosecurity officials staking out the yacht :-).

Thanks to Andrew B. for sending in a link to this story. For more ISW posts about fire ants, click here.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Shared Vision  

How concerned is New York about the potential of the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis, EAB) invading that state? So much that, according to this press release from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, they're sending a team of foresters and horticultural inspectors down to Maryland to help survey ash trees for beetle infestations. While they are helping Maryland, the New Yorkers will also be gaining valuable experience in dealing with the EAB should it ever be detected in their home state. Reminds me of the way disaster response teams get sent out from across the country to deal with hurricanes and floods.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

S.O.S. Minnows  

The state of Maine already has some of the most restrictive laws about bait fish that you'll find anywhere in the US, but according to this article from the Portland Press Herald, there's an effort underway to go even further.

Currently Maine uses a whitelist to regulate bait fish. You can't imported them into the state, so the only way to get bait fish is to either catch them yourself or buy them from suppliers that are either catching them fresh or catching and raising them from in-state stock. Only the following 23 species are allowed to be used as bait: Smelt, Lake chub, Eastern silvery minnow, Golden shiner, Emerald shiner, Bridle shiner, Common shiner, Blacknose shiner, Spottail shiner, Northern redbelly dace, Finescale dace, Fathead minnow, Blacknose dace, Longnose dace, Creek chub, Fallfish, Pearl dace, Banded killifish, Mummichog, Longnose sucker, White sucker, Creek chubsucker, American eel, and Blackchin shiner. That's pasted directly from the government website, no scientific names and no discernible order as far as I can tell. They also have a few illustrations here.

Bill LD 163, introduced by state lawmaker Rep. Thomas Watson (D) of Bath, ME would ban the use of the following four species currently on the list: Eastern silvery minnow, Emerald shiner, Spottail shiner, and Blackchin shiner. The concern is that there is a danger of those species becoming established and threatening native fish species. Seems like a good idea, but if you read the article, the director of the state's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife notes that it is difficult to positively identify different species of bait fish, and that distinguishing between minnow species often requires laboratory work. Sounds like banning some minnows and allowing others doesn't really make sense from a practical standpoint. Furthermore, according to the DIFW it is not even clear whether the species proposed to be banned are native or introduced in Maine. So, then how did this bill even get off the ground? Unfortunately, I cannot find any background information to understand its origin - the bill text is simply a list of bait fish with the "bad" ones crossed off.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Weekend Photoblogging  

A Few of Flickr's Feral Feathered Friends:

A ring-necked parakeet in London:

South London parakeet
Originally uploaded by London looks.

Mynah birds in Australia:

Feral Myna Birds
Originally uploaded by Schilling 2.

A feral peacock in Washington:

Morning Blue
Originally uploaded by furryscaly.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Swamp Things  

I was searching the 'nets today for information about the giant salvinia (Salvinia molesta) infestation in Caddo Lake, Texas, and I was surprised to find that there was already a YouTube video on the the subject. From it, I learned that Caddo Lake is the only naturally formed lake in the state of Texas, that funding is desperately needed to help manage the giant salvinia invasion, and that the trees of the cypress swamp makes it nearly impossible to navigate the invaded areas with anything other than some hip waders and possibly a backpack sprayer full of herbicide.

The video notes that there is no government agency claiming jurisdiction over the lake, which makes getting the resources and funding for management even more difficult. The Caddo Defense Organization, formed back in 2001, is a partnership of several concerned stakeholders, and has plenty of information about the salvinia problem, as well as concerns about water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) and other threats to the lake.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Unwelcome Mat  

From the Daily News in Tanzania comes this update about the water hyacinth invasion in Lake Victoria. The Lake Victoria Environment Management Project, which entered its second phase in 2006, now says populations of water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) have doubled over the past year, and the plants now cover over 700 hectares (1700 acres) of the lake's surface. Back when the LVEMP was first starting up, they had reduced populations by 80%. There is quite a lot of diversity in the potential vectors behind this resurgence: agricultural activities that release silt and fertilizer into the lake, untreated sewage that is dumped in the lake, failure of biocontrols due to excessive water movement in adjacent rivers, and car washes along the shore of the lake that lead to oil and polluted water entering the lake.

You can actually observe for yourself the extent of the water hyacinth invasion in Lake Victoria in this feature from NASA's Earth Observatory. NASA scientists used satellite imagery to estimate the surface area of the lake that was covered by water hyacinth. The photos show that the water hyacinth completely took over the lake's Kisumu Bay between Dec. 2005 and Dec. 2006.

For previous ISW stories about water hyacinth in Lake Victoria, go here and here. Thanks to Xris over at the Flatbush Gardener for sending in the NASA link.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Off Balance  

The Independent recently posted this story about the eradication of feral cats (Felis catus) from Macquarie Island...and it doesn't sound like things are going very well. The cat removal itself worked great: the last time a cat was seen on the subantarctic island was back in 2000. Problem is, there are now over 100,000 rabbits roaming Macquarie, and there have been similar population explosions among the house mice (Mus musculus) and black rats (Rattus rattus) that live there too. The article calls this "unexpected" but I'm not sure how that could be true - it's an island and they killed off the main predator there. Officials are currently scrambling to put together an eradication program and to find funding to control the rats, mice and rabbits before they destroy any more rare bird habitat.

Interested readers may want to check out related ISW posts about similar problems on Robben Island and Gough Island.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Beeched Wail  

From the Sci-Tech section over at CBS News comes this AP article about beech bark disease (BBD), a complex attack on beech trees that is threatening forests across America. First, non-native beech scale insects (Cryptococcus fagisuga) descend on American beech trees (Fagus grandifolia), covering the bark with a white waxy substance. Then, beech scale infestation predisposes beech trees to infection by fungi in the genus Nectria. Studies have repeatedly shown that there is a strong association between the scale and the fungus, though the exact mechanism allowing the fungus to attack remains unknown. To complicate things even further, it turns out that there are at least two different species of Nectria that take advantage of the beech scale attacks, one native to America (Nectria galligena) and one not (Nectria coccinea var. faginata).

Once Nectria fungus has infected a tree, dead spots occur along the trunk - sometimes appearing as oozing sores - and cause callus tissue to form (wound response), disfiguring the tree as it attempts to isolate and fight off the fungus. Under ideal conditions, a beech tree can live for years with a Nectria infection. However, infected trees are much more susceptible to environmental extremes such as drought and deep freezes, and sustain wind damage more frequently than healthy trees. Those open wounds are also ripe for infection with other fungi, and are often an "in" for damaging insects as well.

Scientists expect that as infected American beech trees die out, wildlife dependent on this forest species for food and shelter will suffer. At the very least, forest composition will be changing as BBD continues to spread. Interested readers may want to view the Proceedings of the Beech Bark Disease Symposium (large pdf) that was held back in 2004, or this article about BBD research currently underway at the University of Maine. Also, Dave Houston gave a good talk about BBD for the New England Botanical Club back in 2003 (pdf).

Tip of the virtual hat to Alan Gregory's Conservation News, by way of nuthatch.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Weekend Blog Blogging  

This past week in invasive species blogging:

  • Go Heron, Go Heron! The Huckleberries Online blog posted an awesome photo of a great blue heron attempting to snarf down an invasive suckermouth catfish somewhere in South Florida (via Cash for Critters)
  • The Adirondack Diary posts about the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival...which has nothing to do with invasive species, except that to build their giant ice castle, carnival organizers cut blocks of ice from Lake Flower, which happens to be infested with Eurasian water milfoil. Scroll about a third of the way down the post for a photo where you can actually see the milfoil inclusions in the ice bricks (just when we thought we knew of every invasive plant vector...at least these particular ice blocks don't seem to be traveling far from their place of origin).
  • The UBC Botanical Garden Weblog chose Arundo donax as their Botany Photo of the Day last Tuesday.

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Weekend Photoblogging  

Invasive Ivy #3
Originally uploaded by urbanwild.

Nice photo of a full-blown ivy invasion (Hedera sp.) in Vancouver, BC, Canada. For more information about English ivy as an invasive plant, visit the No Ivy League website.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Island Pressed  

Having never mentioned Bahrain* on the ISW before, I could not resist posting about this brief article from the Gulf Daily News. Too bad I missed out on the recent lecture by Abdulqader Khamis that the article refers to. Based on the summary, it sounds like Bahrainians need a little public outreach so they know it's not a good idea to release their pets into the wild: feral cats (Felis catus), red-eared slider turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans), and the Indian mongoose (Herpestes javanicus) are all causing problems. The Indian house crow (Corvus splendens) was also mentioned as a nuisance species.

* Link source: Encyclopedia Britannica, which provides free web access to the ISW.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Contest: Last Chance!  

This is your last chance to enter the fourth "Your Punny Title Here" contest. The winner gets a copy of the ISW's wall calendar. I'm already in danger of time turning this into the lamest prize ever, so hurry up and get your entry in - deadline is Friday at 11:11pm!

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tangled Bank is Here!  

Check out the latest edition of the Tangled Bank, hosted over at Lab Cat's place. The ISW's entry is sandwiched quite nicely in the middle of some great science blogging.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fun with Google  

Searching the internets...

Species compared to kudzu in the USA:

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Mesquito Bites  

Interesting article in The East African about mesquite (Prosopis juliflora, mathenge). While that invasive shrub certainly gets a lot of media attention for the problems it is causing in Africa, what sets this article apart is that it covers the history of the plant's introduction and spread in such countries as Senegal, South Africa and Kenya.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

The further adventures of Mr. Coypu...  

...during which Mr. Coypu turns out to be not a coypu, but a true Mr.

(Unfortunately this fact was not enough for an Oregon meth-head/"hunter" from going all Dick Cheney on the guy and shooting him in the face.)

According to this report from The News Review, the incident occurred last week at the Smith River in Reedsport, Oregon. The shooter claims he mistook the man, who was snorkeling around the river checking out the fish, for a nutria (Myocastor coypus), never mind that he was not supposed to be carrying a gun...or the meth...or the pot. Luckily, said snorkeler is going to recover.

More details are available in the AP version of the story. Nutria (coypus) are South American rodents that have been living in Oregon since the 1930s following a failed attempt at establishing a market for their fur.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Cold Fish  

The San Antonio Express-News is reporting that recent Texas cold snaps have not been good for the state's invasive fish. Thousands of tilapia and plecostomus catfish (but note confusion as to which species this is) have been found floating dead in portions of the San Antonio River since December of last year. The culprit is thought to be weather patterns that led to several stretches of temperatures in the 30's (F). The non-native tilapia and plecos, which are from Africa and South America, respectively, do not do well in cold water.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Vine, No Thank You!  

The Auckland Regional Council in New Zealand is asking property owners to keep an eye out for the invasive moth plant (Araujia sericifera). The South American vine should be in flower across New Zealand right now, making it easier to spot. It doesn't sound like a friendly plant: the sap can cause allergic reactions, the seeds and fruit are poisonous, and the flowers trap moths, butterflies and bees. Anyone who finds a moth plant on their property is encouraged to dig it out (with gloves on, of course) or spray it with herbicide, and landowners in certain parts of the coutry are actually legally required to do so.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Worm Front  

From deep in the ISW mailbag...Mike H. sent in a link to this Boston Globe article about non-native earthworms. The topic has certainly been reported before on the ISW, but the Globe adds a nice New England flavor to it. The article notes that there could be as many as 15 different introduced earthworm species in the region, though typically no more than five of them are found in any one forest.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

The Age Of Aquaria  

From the looks of these USGS Non-indigenous Aquatic Species Alerts (new reports of discoveries from May 2006 and earlier), Puerto must be turning into one giant fish tank:

For more information, check out this page from MongaBay - it's a list of known fish species in Puerto Rico, marked as native or non-native, with links to their FishBase species pages. Fifty-six percent introduced (30 species) - very impressive!

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Weekend Blog Blogging  

The past week in invasive species blogging:

* Link source: Encyclopedia Britannica, which provides free web access to the ISW.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Square Pegs  

This post has been selected to appear in the Open Laboratory 2007 anthology of science blogs!


Since being gifted with a copy of the book Mind Performance Hacks this past holiday, I have become fascinated by all the different memory techniques that have been developed. One of the first hacks is to create a system of numerical "pegs" to hang memories on, and after playing various games memorizing grocery lists and cars on the highway, I decided to put this new hack to good use.

Below is my set of 10 Invasive Species Pegs, along with ten important facts about invasive species that I am now guaranteed to never forget. They're not in order of importance, just in the order that I use to remember them. Mousing over the pegs will display my brain's (sometimes odd) associations with each number.

1=Phragmites, a wetland grass --> both aquatic and terrestrial
1
A Dividing Line - There are divisions that exist between various disciplines that prevent biologists from working together to tackle invasive species issues: terrestrial|aquatic, freshwater|marine, plant|animal. Most of this has its root in pre-existing organizations that were created to focus on weeds, or aquatic ecosystems, or pathogens and disease. Many of these organizations have found that invasive species now fall under their jurisdiction, and while many have taken steps to partner with each other, there is a lot of room for improvement.
2=mute swan --> charismatic megafauna
2
Feathers and Fluff - The attention an invasive species gets is frequently determined by how charismatic it is, whether that attention is positive (mute swan) or negative (snakeheads). Anyone want to start a program to adopt snakehead fish? Or gypsy moth caterpillars? Anyone?
3=bee --> Africanized bees, honeybees, hybrid bumblebees
3
DNA Matters - Invasion isn't just about one species displacing others - it can occur at the subspecies level. The genetic material of invasive organisms can threaten native species by leading to hybridization (between natives and non-natives, or even between two non-natives, leading to more aggressive invaders) and loss of genetic variation (when invaders attract mates or pollinators away from native species).
4=chalice --> The Holy Grail
4
The Holy Grail - Scientists wish they could predict, with certainty, exactly which species will be invasive, based on biological characters...but they still cannot. Tropical species can invade temperate zones, proliferous breeders don't necessarily succeed while those with low reproductive output sometimes do, and we're still not sure what role biodiversity levels in the native habitat play in the whole mess. What we do know: it is a very, very complex problem to try to tease apart.
5=snake --> snakes on a plane, brown treesnakes sneaking in to Hawaii
5
Snakes on a Plane - While people care very much about political borders, invasive species, in general, do not. Take a look at the invasive species lists for any state, province or country and compare them to one of their neighbors. First, you'll likely find that you can't match them up completely because one will be lacking mammals, the other lacking pathogens, etc. Second, the species on the list for a particular type of organism will likely differ so much that the mind *boggles.* Take a look at this study I did back in 2003 just for invasive plants in the New England states. Keeping in mind that the data is three years out of date (the Massachusetts and Connecticut lists are now much larger), note the huge differences between these relatively tiny, adjacent land masses [map]. Now think about the fact that New York and Vermont each manage Lake Champlain differently to control the invasive sea lampreys [insert your favorite expletive here].
6=vine --> vines have weedy habits
6
The vine wants what the vine wants - Some native species exhibit characteristics that are considered invasive. The general public often gets confused by this separation between native and non-native when something is simply a nuisance (You're going to keep the poison ivy and kill that pretty purple loosestrife - wha?). But more importantly, invasive species ecology does not need to stand alone as a science, ecological concepts like succession, r- and k-selected species still have meaning regardless of the origin of a species.
7=flag --> marking a transect next to a bottle of 7Up --> bottleneck
7
All Bottled Up - Endangered species are often at risk due to genetic bottlenecks, where a massive species loss leads to a lack of genetic variation which theoretically puts the species in danger of extinction. But non-native species introduced to new habitats typically experience these same bottlenecks (very few individuals, low population numbers, little genetic variation)...yet can become invasive. Sometimes those bottlenecks even lead to evolution of novel characters that are thought to make the species better invaders. Interesting...and I plan on looking into this more during my class this semester.
8=belt+two rollers --> construction equipment
8
What is “Natural”? - Some people say "Let nature take its course" with regard to invasive species. Yet humans are constantly influencing nature in a variety of direct and indirect ways. We dig, we plant, we pollute, we change weather patterns, we alter hydrologic paths. Why is it that we cannot also try to protect native species at the same that we are harming them?
9=cat with nine lives --> 3^2 --> multiples
9
Multiplicity - Most invasive species have several vectors of introduction. This is one of the few good predictors of invasive success. Also, the ways something gets introduced and the ways it later gets spread around are often entirely different. Though most species are linked with intentional introductions, unintentional spread via natural pathways (wind, flood, migration) makes controlling invaders much more complicated. Which is why prevention is such an attractive concept...
10=0=egg --> unidentified eggs of unknown origin --> egg timer
10
Time is Short - We don't have enough of it to definitively answer what the impact of every introduced species will be. There aren't enough grad students to do all those studies and there definitely isn't enough funding. That is the main reason why prevention is such an attractive proposition, even if prevention is a brush that paints with broad strokes.

Pegs 1, 2, 3, 6 and 10 are my photos, the rest are from photographers who generously shared their photos under a Creative Commons license. Thanks to LeoL30 (4), Geordie Torr (5), zen (7), D. Bjorn (8) and Salim Virji (9)!

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

If I Could Buy Plants In A Bottle...  
...The first thing that I'd want to do
is spend every day asking what plants they were
and if they're invasive, I'd bid them adieu!
Via boingboing, news of a store called dirty microbe selling a "Tokyo Micro Garden," which is a tiny jar with a tiny plant growing in a nutrient goo. Its meant to hang off your cellphone strap and it's darn cute. Part of me wants to buy one, I think it's that same part of me that thought it would be fun to have one of those hermit crab necklaces...the ones with live hermit crabs in them.

But seriously folks, there's this thing called "Corporate Responsibility" and the world needs more of it. It means you don't get to stick unknown plants in a jar and sell them all over the world without thinking about what species they are and whether they could potentially be invasive, and whether you might be breaking the laws of all those countries you're offering to ship to if you sell said plants there. If those plants aren't invasive, then you should be informing us, the consumer, that you've gone and checked into it.

I've emailed dirty microbe to ask them if they know what species of plants those "blue leafy" and "pink leafy" ones are, so I can check what their origin is and whether they are invasive (in the US or anyplace else). If I find out anything more, I'll post it here.

Update: Whew! I decided to do some sleuthing and I just found this page from a Japanese company that seems to be selling the exact same product. The "leafy" plants appear to be...Orchids! Specifically, Cattleya and Oncidium. So these are likely just tissue cultured orchids (and cacti too). I feel better now. I still think dirty microbe needs to put that info on their website though.

Update 2: dirty microbe has the fastest, nicest customer support staff of any webstore I've ever contacted <3 <3 <3. They assured me the plants-in-a-jar were approved for import and they promised to look into exactly what plants they were. I can see other parts of their website where they have specifically responded to customer comments and that is promising. This is a good thing - we all benefit from being better informed about the things we "consume."

Update 3: Uh oh. I was perusing dirty microbe's ultra-cute site and I just found these micro-seaweed cellphone strap attachments - algae from Japan in an unsealed bottle. There are other online stores selling these little cellphone charms too. Now I am worried again. The algae listed are: Wolveryponica, Wolverineza, Wolveritusa, and Valornia. I think Valornia=Valonia, which is sometimes listed as a nuisance species...but who knows what species this is. The others seem to exist only as trade names, I will try to figure out what their scientific names are...

Update 4: dirtymicrobe.com has been really great about this. Customer Support let me know that they are very concerned about the possible negative environmental impacts of this and they have pulled the items from their catalog pending more information (they were out of stock and expected to arrive this April). Meanwhile, if you think you might know the identity of any of those algae, drop me an email (use the Suggest a Post link in the top left corner of this page).

Update 5: The strapya-world website has more information along with better close-up photos of the algae, which they say are cultivated in deep sea water (water from more than 200 meters (650ft) below sea level).

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