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Author: Jennifer Forman Orth

Invading your brain since 2002.


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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hydrilla!  

Ack - Invader!!!
Originally uploaded by urtica.

I am currently at a meeting in Mystic, Connecticut, right near the very first place that the invasive plant Hydrilla verticillata was ever found in New England, in the late 1980s. It took people a few years after that discovery to figure out what they had, because the first samples taken were misidentified as a similar-looking species, Egeria densa.

Want more Hydrilla photos? They are yours for the non-commercial taking, via Creative Commons license, here.






Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Found Their Mittens - Again!  

Just a few days after it was reported that a Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis) was discovered off the coast of Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay, a crabber has yet again found one of the crabs, this time in the Delaware Bay. This is the first record of the mitten crab for Delaware. Delaware Online has the full story, including interviews with the crabber's dad and a most excellent quote from a guy in charge at the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control:

"I know almost nothing about them, except what I'm reading now,"
Eesh. Let's hope for Delaware's sake that was taken out of context.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Rat Trap  

Perhaps some of you have seen the story currently making the rounds about giant rats invading the Florida Keys. The ISW first posted about the Gambian pouch rats (Cricetomys gambianus) in Grassy Key back in 2005, and then again when the eradication program began in 2006. Now Yahoo! News and others are reporting that the eradication program is entering its last phase. Wildlife officials are out in Grassy Key setting traps using peanut butter mixed with almond extract and anise. Sounds pretty yummy until the part about the poison zinc phosphide.

The really interesting story here is not about the pouch rats, which are old news, but about this eradication project holding up other invasive species control projects, in particular the feral cat problem plaguing Big Pine Key. Because the cats are threatening the endangered Lower Keys rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris hefneri), there are plans to remove the cats from the island, but with resources low, animal rights activists are turning to Hugh Hefner for help. Yes, you read that right: Hugh Hefner. Check out that scientific name - turns out Hef took an interest in protecting the rabbits and they are now named after him. Frank Cerabino at the Palm Beach Post has the full story.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Fun With Entrez  

Let the sequencing battle begin!!!!

  • Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria): 50 nucleotide sequences, 26 protein sequences
  • Zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha): 386 nucleotide sequences, 63 protein sequences
  • Nutria (Myocastor coypus): 81 nucleotide sequences, 39 protein sequences
  • Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis): 25 nucleotide sequences, 11 protein sequences
  • Brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis): 32 nucleotide sequences, 5 protein sequences
  • Northern snakehead (Channa argus): 52 nucleotide sequences, 46 protein sequences
  • Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis): 238 nucleotide sequences, 89 protein sequences
  • Frog Chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis): 439 nucleotide sequences, 3 protein sequences

Decision goes to: Zebra mussel, with a combined 449 sequences. Go Team Zebra Mussel!!!

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Like A Boat Out Of Water  

An environmental group is calling for drastic measures to prevent the further introduction of invasive species into the Great Lakes. According to this article at mlive.com, the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition is suggesting that no international ships be allowed to enter the Great Lakes until the U.S. sets federal regulations for how ballast water is dealt with. They've even gone so far as to commission a study showing what the cost would be of diverting the ships and using alternate transportation for goods (more than $50 million, but far less than the estimated $5 billion/year for invasive species management in the Great Lakes region). It has been five years since the U.S. government first considered the idea of ballast water regulations, and some states have become so frustrated with the lack of activity that they're passing their own laws to deal with the issue.

Thanks to John R. from Don Watcher for sending in a link to the story. Interested readers may also want to check out this related press release from the Great Lakes Coalition.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

It's Nice To Share...The Knotweed!  

Are you a U.S. resident struggling with a burgeoning Japanese knotweed invasion, or are you hip to where all the cool knotweed plants hang out in your neighborhood? If so, a grad student from my former lab, Jonna Grimsby, wants you to send her some leaves! She is working on a genetic analysis of Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica, Polygonum cuspidatum, Reynoutria japonica, etc.) and is seeking samples from across the US. It won't cost you anything but a few minutes of time. Read her request below for more information:

Don’t know how to get rid of your Japanese knotweed? Give it to me!

Actually, all I want is a leaf or two (sorry!). As a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, I am currently studying the genetic diversity of Fallopia japonica (Japanese knotweed). Very little is known about the genetic diversity of this species in the United States. We have previously studied three populations in the Boston area and, using DNA markers, have found a relatively high level of genetic diversity.

We are interested in retrieving samples from other regions in the United States to test the level of genetic diversity. If you are an environmentalist, conservationist, land manager, scientist, student, teacher, homeowner, or simply a person interested in invasive species, we would greatly appreciate your help.

If you are interested in donating a leaf sample to contribute to our genetic study, email me at jonnagrimsby AT gmail DOT com. Please give me your name and address so that I can send you a sampling kit with directions.

Once we receive your address, WE WILL SEND YOU AN ENVELOPE (POSTAGE PRE-PAID) to return the samples. PLEASE DO NOT SEND THE LEAF SAMPLE IN YOUR OWN ENVELOPE, WE WILL PROVIDE THIS FOR YOU! PLEASE DO NOT SEND RHIZOMES OR SEEDS.

There will be straightforward directions in the package provided to you.

We greatly appreciate your help! Remember, the more we can learn about populations of Japanese knotweed, the greater chance we have of controlling this destructive invasive plant!

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Found Their Mittens  

Could Maryland be on the brink of yet another species invasion? WJZ.com is reporting that a Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis) was found this week in the Chesapeake Bay. This is at least the second mitten crab found in the area - the first was discovered in August 2006, and as a commenter notes in this older ISW post, someone in the area also had one in their freezer.

This is yet another example of the value of public outreach in managing invasive species issues. Maryland has taken advantage of an easily recognizable identification character, those distinctly furry claws, to put out the word and get everyone to be on the lookout for the Chinese mitten crab. Bonus points to the crabber who noticed the odd crab in his pot - the first sighting of this species was also made by a crabber.

For more about this story, be sure to check out the video at WJZ.com, and this story from the Baltimore Sun.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Nutria-System  

From the Baltimore Sun comes news of an ambitious project to rid the Chesapeake of the invasive semi-aquatic rodent known as the nutria (Myocastor coypus). State and federal officials, buoyed by the successful eradication of nutria within Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, are slowly but surely hunting and trapping the nutria of Maryland's marshlands out of existence. Biologists are predicting the job could be done but for the monitoring within the next seven years. With a cost of about a million dollars a year, I'm sure government officials are happy to hear that there is an end in sight.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Weekend Photoblogging  

Rockin' the Do
Originally uploaded by urtica.

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) already done flowering and gone to seed, from a patch at the head of the trail at Wittenborg Woods, Framingham, MA.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Containment Feel  

Now that the fish virus Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) has been discovered in Lake Winnebago, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has enacted further emergency rulings aimed at curbing its spread. Since April 7th of this year, rulings have been in effect in Wisconsin that banned the transport of live fish from the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River and any of their tributaries. As of May 17th the ban has been expanded to the entire Lake Winnebago watershed (pdf map), but more importantly, as the press release from the DNR notes: "...if VHS is found outside of the Lake Winnebago system the rules will automatically go into effect statewide."

Wisconsin has also increased monitoring of bait dealers and has suspended the stocking of fish within the watershed, and this editorial from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel points out the role that anglers and boaters will have to play in preventing the spread of VHS. The seriousness with which everyone is taking this situation brings up two important questions: 1) Can Wisconsin realistically keep VHS from spreading and 2) What are neighboring states doing to prepare for the possibility of a fish epidemic like VHS? Michigan is one state that seems concerned, as is New York.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Stamps of Disapproval  

ISW reader Jeremy C. from the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog sent in a tip about some interesting new Dutch wildflower stamps that feature plantable wildflower seeds in a piece that peels away from the actual postage. According to the Postzegel blog a sheet of the "Bloemetjes Cadeau" feature images and contain seeds of the following five species:

  • Petunia (Petunia multiflora) [seems to be benign]
  • Moroccan toadflax (Linaria maroccana) [naturalized on both US coasts, on the "early warning" list for the Hell's Canyon SWAT Team in Idaho, adventive in the UK, Australia and New Zealand]
  • Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) [considered a weed in the UK, adventive in New Zealand and the US]
  • Edging lobelia (Lobelia erinus) [naturalized in Australia, native to South Africa and considered a "problem weed" there]
  • Hybrid pinks (Dianthus chinensis x barbatus) [Not invasive as far as I can tell, though considered a weed in its native China]

Should we be concerned? It looks like TNT Post, the Dutch post office, is either restricting these for internal use only or recommending it - I cannot tell from the translation. The fact that most stamp collectors will want to preserve the stamps in their entirety and not plant the seeds makes this a fairly low risk situation, but perhaps pathogens are an issue? The Postzegel blog notes that the Dutch post office will mail these out to collectors worldwide with a statement in English describing what the stamps contain, and also points out that customs regulations might prevent these stamps from getting through to other countries. Hopefully this will alert countries with strict regulations to the "surprise" inside the stamps. Of course, you can already purchase them on eBay from sellers in the US, no customs sheet necessary.

Right now it is just me and the Babel Fish trying to figure out the story, so if anyone can translate Dutch feel free to add details (or corrections) in the comments below.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Viral Audio  

From Voice of America (and many others) comes this pointer to a new study about West Nile virus (Flavivirus) about to be published in the journal Nature. Researchers used data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey to examine populations of 20 different bird species in the USA, and found that seven of them, including American crows (Corvus brachyrhyncho), Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) and house wrens (Troglodytes aedon), have experienced population declines strongly correlated to the appearance of West Nile virus eight years ago and its spread across the country.

For more information, you can check out this Nature podcast (mp3 file, transcript to be available soon) or, if you have access, the original research (supplementary figures and methods are free to everyone).

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Gardening By Computer  

Attention New England gardeners: A couple of years ago, a bunch of us started working on the New England Native Alternatives Gardening Guide, a project to create a website that takes invasive plant profiles and gives you back suggestions of what native plants are good alternatives. The backend uses a database derived from the New England Wildflower Society's 2005 native plant catalog, so it's a little out of date, but it could still be a fun tool for those of you who are looking to plant natives in the garden. If you get bored of looking at the native replacements, you can go directly to the native plant database and search by characters like flower color, plant height and soil type.

Note that this is just an experimental project, with a machine making the decisions for you, and of course is not meant to take the place of expert advice :-).

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Shock Value  

Interesting story at Jacksonville.com about Georgia's plans to manage populations of flathead catfish (Pylodictus olivaris) in the Satilla River. Teams from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources will be spending this summer and fall shocking catfish-infested waters and scooping out the stunned flatheads where they find them. This might be disappointing news to some sport fisherman in the area, since lately they've been catching flatheads in the 50- 70 pound range.

Flatheads are native to the Central U.S. but are considered invasive in the Southeast, where wild populations were most likely started from intentional introductions. The catfish are "poisson non grata" there because they eat just about everything they see.

The article notes that if you're in the Satilla River area and you've got a boat or flatbed truck, the flathead catfish removal project could use your help! Contact Gordon at the Satilla RiverKeepers for more info.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Weekend Photoblogging  

Sea snails
Originally uploaded by Wanderin' Weeta.

A group of Japanese mud snails (Batillaria attramentaria) in British Columbia, Canada. From Wandering Weeta's Blogger BioBlitz.






Friday, May 11, 2007

A Pox On You  

This BBC News article has the most awful photo I have seen in the news for a long time - a dead red squirrel. The photo is provided as evidence of something wildlife biologists have been concerned about: squirrel pox has spread to the native red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) in Scotland. The squirrel pox virus has been known since 2005 in the UK, where it is carried by the introduced American gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), so perhaps this development was inevitable. The article does note that scientists are working on a vaccine for the virus, but in the meantime, Scottish conservation officers are asking residents to avoid feeding squirrels, since that encourages the congregation of both species, and are asking anyone who observes a red squirrel with lesions to report it.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

To Canada, With Love  

According to this article from The Oregonian, Oregon wildlife officials spotted a suspicious trailered boat being transported up the coast and contacted the Washington State Patrol to warn them to check it. Their concerns were well-warranted: it turns out the boat was from Missouri, and the inspection revealed zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) encrusted under the engine. The boat was on its way to British Columbia...where the owners had also recently delivered yet another boat. This update from the Seattle Post Intelligencer notes that the infested boat was salvaged after it sank in a lake in the Midwest. It is odd that I cannot find any Canadian news sources covering this story - seems like it would be a big deal.

For more coverage of Dreissena mussels breaking the 100th Meridian barrier, click here.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Buy Buy!  

From ACES News comes this press release about a recent study that revealed just how little we know about the aquatic plants and animals that are sold in the USA. Biologists Reuben Keller and David Lodge looked at pet stores, fish markets, and plant nurseries and found three major problems (emphasis and bullets are mine):

  • Some companies are selling known invasive species, as well as species recognized as potential invaders.
  • Species for sale are often misidentified, or labeled only with a common name, making it difficult to figure out exactly what is being sold. One result of this is that invasive plants and animals are sneaking through...but perhaps what is worse is that some companies aren't even checking.
  • Contamination! The abstract seems to be saying that ninety percent of the plants ordered by the researchers contained other plants or animals when they arrived!

This research was just published in the latest issue of the journal BioScience...sorry, only an abstract is available if you don't have a subscription - heck, I can't even get online access through my own university!

Thanks to John R. from Don Watcher for sending in a copy of the press release.

A final note: There are plenty of responsible companies out there that make the effort necessary to avoid selling or transmitting invasive organisms - so give your business to them, and let other companies know that you care about invasive species and don't want to buy them or accidentally introduce them to your own little corner of the world!

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Slider Show  

Nature might be taking care of Santa Cruz, California's red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans, formerly genus Chrysemys - thanks Sven!) problem. According to this article at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, park officials from Natural Bridges State Beach have noticed that local raccoons are snatching up the non-native turtles for dinner, and the officials aren't exactly upset about it. The red-eared sliders, most likely released by unthinking pet owners, are thought to compete with rare Western pond turtles (Clemmys marmorata) for food, and have been observed eating the legs off local frogs.

Tip of the virtual hat to the Protect Your Waters website. Negative bonus points to the Sentinel for running a big 'ol ad for TurtleSale.com right smack in the center of the article!

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Wrapped Response  

The Marlborough Express has an article about New Zealand's Didemnum Working Group, which just took home the top prize at the Marlborough Environmental Awards. The team won $250,000 NZ dollars ($184,000 USD) for their innovative way of killing off infestations of Didemnum, an invasive sea squirt: they cover colonies in baleage (balage) wrap, plastic sheeting typically used to wrap up bales of hay. The plastic wrap, if applied properly, eliminates the flow of water within the sea squirt colonies, effectively cutting off the oxygen supply and killing the Didemnum. Test treatments have had a very high rate of success - Didemnum has been eliminated in 97% of the treatment areas. To see details of what is involved in this method of control, read the full report (pdf).

Bonus points to Didemnum Working Group chairman Graeme Coates, who apparently consented to being himself wrapped in plastic balage wrap for the award photo.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Weekend Blog Blogging  

Seems like invasive species have been on the minds of a lot of American bloggers lately, what with spring finally getting going and all:

  • The Birdfreak Birding Blog posts about something decidedly un-avian: garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Walking the Berkshires posts about it too.
  • The Urbane Homestead starts off on garlic mustard too, but then waxes philosophical about Bishop's weed (Aegopodium podagraria).
  • Walking the Berkshires also notes that some idiot let loose a whole bunch of pot-bellied pigs (Sus scrofa, but a presumably more domesticated variety of pig) in Connecticut.
  • Fieldmarking posts about the pessimism surrounding the spread of the Emerald ash borer beetle (Agrilus planipennis).
  • The most awesomely named SusHI blog (Sustainability in Hawai'i) posts about efforts to rid the island of Kauai of the Australian tree fern (Sphaeropteris cooperi).

P.S. - I am noticing a lack of scientific names in these posts and the articles they refer to. Are we all just feeling very "local" about our blogging these days? :-)

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Curses, Milfoiled Again!  

We are covering educational and public outreach in my invasive species class tomorrow, and while going through my talk on the subject from 2003, I came across this hysterical animated milfoil PSA (click here for the Real Audio version) that luckily still works. It was produced ten years ago for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but it's none the worse for a decade of wear. Who knew Eurasian water milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) could be so cute?

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Weekend Photoblogging  

Kudzu on the move.
Originally uploaded by k.lifka.

Kudzu - not your average sessile plant.

You have to give props to a terrestrial vascular plant that can live its entire life as a hitchhiker :-).

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Storytelling  

Today's post is a story about community action, complete with a happy ending.

I'm a new homeowner (four years this month) and as such I've been making various attempts at landscaping. Mostly this involves removal of invasive species (and some native weeds), but I have also been making some attempts to add new plants to the yard - always something native or non-invasive, of course. I've already made enough purchases to get on the mailing list of pretty much every major gardening catalog and website there is.

Late last year I received an email from Gurney's Seed and Nursery Co. touting the benefits of ornamental shrubs. When I clicked through to the website I ended up on a page selling dwarf burning bush (Euonymus alatus var. compacta). It always annoys me to see invasive plants being given the hard sell to the gardening public. But now, things are different: in 2006 the state of Massachusetts enacted a ban on over 100 different invasive plants. Burning bush is on that list, with an importation ban as of Jan. 2006, and a propagation ban that goes into effect Jan. 2009. The ban does cover cultivars of invasive plants, and Gurney's is importing plants into Massachusetts from out of state, which means Massachusetts should have been on the list of states Gurney's cannot ship this species to...but they weren't:

burning bush for sale, even in Massachusetts

So I did what any concerned citizen would do - I emailed Gurney's and asked them why Massachusetts wasn't on their "unable to ship to" list. The response from Customer Service was pretty straightforward: "...At this time, burning bushes are not restricted for spring delivery to MA..."

Problem with that response was that it was wrong. I contacted the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources to check, and also mentioned that Gurney's was selling Norway maple (Acer platanoides) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), both currently banned in Massachusetts. The MDAR verified that import of these species was indeed prohibited, and promised to contact Gurney's. After a few back-and-forths, this was the result:

burning bush no longer for sale in Massachusetts or New Hampshire

As of late January 2007, Massachusetts was added to Gurney's "unable to ship to" list for burning bush, Norway maple, and Japanese barberry, and also to some other catalog storefronts (Spring Hill and Audubon Workshop, at least - they all seem to be owned by the same company). I even tried putting the plant in my shopping cart and when I filled out the "Ship To" section as Massachusetts it bounced me back out. Even better, some time between January and today (when I finally got around to getting a screen grab and completing this post), someone in New Hampshire apparently did the same thing, because NH is now on the "unable to ship to" list too!

Sure, seeing positive effects from a small action like a few emails feels good. But wouldn't it be better if there were a system in place where sellers of plants could easily keep up to date about the changes in prohibited plants? Rules are only going to get more restrictive (and more complicated!) as more and more official invasive plant lists are implemented at the state level...never mind the county and town-based regulations. In the meantime, I am happy this was resolved and I even purchased many of my vegetable seeds from Gurney's this year. Also, Audubon Workshop seems to have a nice selection of native Northeast U.S. shrubs in their mix this season.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Weekday Photoblogging  

bug of the day
Originally uploaded by urtica.

Wasps in UMass Boston! (No, not *that* kind...European paper wasps!)

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King Arthur's Court Date  

A New Hampshire man was in court today following his arrest last January for cutting down some trees on his neighbor's property. According to this article from the Portland Herald, Mr. Arthur Patch intentionally and apparently without remorse cut down seven Norway maples (Acer platanoides), estimated to have been about 20 years old, and turned them into firewood. Among his claims of defense were that the trees are invasive, which is true. However, there is ample evidence that his real goal was to gain a clear view of a nearby pond. Once a surveyor confirmed that the trees were on the neighbor's property, a warrant went out for Mr. Patch's arrest, and he voluntarily turned himself in.

Cost of the ordeal:

  • a misdemeanor count of criminal mischief-vandalism
  • a $500 fine
  • an impending lawsuit for damages covering the cost of replacement (Likely expensive, but here's hoping they pick something native!)
  • the embarrassment of having his *mugshot* pasted all over the local news...for chopping down some trees.

Oh Arthur, if only I could believe you had good in your heart when you took to the saw!

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