Friday, October 31, 2003

The Big Dig

I was cruising around a hair-pin turn, before getting on the Mass Pike earlier this week, and was surprised to catch a glimpse of something flowering in the wreckage that is known as Boston's Big Dig. Anyone that knows the area I am talking about understands that it is a construction wasteland. The fact that anything was growing there at all was a shock. Turns out it was Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), a species that is native here, but has become a successful invasive species in Europe (see here, here or here for examples). While Jerusalem artichoke is considered a problem weed in parts of the U.S., I've had trouble growing this plant in my own yard. And while I don't see it around Eastern Massachusetts much, unless it has been planted, my Big Dig sighting is a testament to this species' weedy capabilities.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Moving In

Some of us in Massachusetts have been noticing the propensity of a certain bug to show up around the house lately, and now the media has taken notice as well. As reported in the MetroWest Daily News, the insects, while sometimes referred to as "stink bugs," are actually Western conifer seed bugs (Leptoglossus occidentalis), a relatively new arrival in the Northeastern U.S. While they do emit a pine-like odor when crushed, they smell no where near as bad as actual stink bugs. I'm not sure if the paper version of this article had a photo, but the online version sure could use one. Luckily, we've got plenty of photos right here. This species is native to the Western U.S., so depending on who you ask, it may not be considered invasive in the eastern part of the country. Unfortunately, the pest has already made its way overseas, as this web page from Italy demonstrates.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Get off our duff!

Earthworms are causing problems in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, according to this report in The Daily Times. A species of earthworm, suspected to be native to Asia, cleared all the duff - the layer of decomposing plant material just below leaf litter - from a section of forest. A lack of duff can mean less nutrients in the soil, and damage to the root systems of plants in the herbaceous understory. A similar problem, but with European earthworms, was reported about a year ago in Minnesota.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Muddy River

The New Zealand mud snail (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) continues to spread in Wyoming, according to this story in the Billings Gazette. Though the prolific snails have been spotted in several western states since the mid-1990s, its appearance in the Bighorn River is its first appearance in Wyoming outside of Yellowstone National Park. Scientists, who are speculating that the snails were introduced via contaminated angling gear, have begun an assessment to determine the extent of the invasion.

Monday, October 27, 2003

The Good and the Bad?

Two intersting blurbs about water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) today. First, the Herald Tribune reports that a scientist has developed a way to use populations of the invasive aquatic plant to remove excess nutrients that pollute stormwater runoff. The best part is that once the water is clean, the water hyacinth is removed and turned into a supplement for cattle feed. Read the article and you'll see that this is no fly-by-night project.

Also in the news today is a report from the India Times that water hyacinth invasion leads to an increase in dengue fever (Flavirus spp.). When water hyacinth populations take over a body of water, vegetation below the surface is shaded out and decays, leading to a loss of oxygen in the water. Dengue is a mosquito-borne disease, and it is suspected that the fish that would normally eat mosquito larvae are being suffocated.

Thanks to a member of the ALIENS-L listserver for posting link to these stories.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Its ears must have been burning

Just one day after a big meeting in Minnesota to discuss the potential of building a barrier across the Mississippi River, to prevent the introduction of carp into that state, a commercial fisherman netted a 23 lb. bighead carp (Aristichthys nobilis) in Lake Pepin. This marks the first time an invasive carp has been discovered in Minnesota. As reported in the Star-Tribune, officials are hoping this was just a "stray" and remain confident that it is not too late to prevent the carp from establishing in their state.

Friday, October 24, 2003

The Scent of Doom

Maryland is on alert now that the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) has been spotted in Washington County, according to this report from The Asian insect, first seen in the U.S. in Pennsylvania a few years ago, enjoys a variety of fruits, making this invasion a serious danger to orchard owners in the area. Biologists aren't sure how the insects got to Maryland, but as I've said before, Maryland is the place to be if you're an invasive species. In a related story, brown stink bugs (unsure of species) have infested the campus of Lehigh University, both inside and out.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Dead Ducks

Message from Morocco to the North American ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis jamaicensis): get out of here! The World Conservation Union (IUCN) is reporting that its Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation brought together experts from Morocco, France, Spain and the UK to discuss plans to eradicate the ducks. Similar eradication programs have already been instituted in the other countries invited to participate in the meeting. Rare native Mediterranean ducks are losing habitat to the unwanted American birds, and unfortunately make control programs very tricky to implement.

Thanks to a member of the ALIENS-L listserver for posting a link to this story.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

And the Winners Are...

The USDA announced this month that they awarded $1.5 million in grants, to organizations in 8 states that will be studying the economic impacts of various aspects of invasive species management. There are a total of twelve intriguing projects, all but one of which are in conjuncton with a university. You can find out more about the PREISM (Program of Research on the Economics of Invasive Species Management) competitive grants by clicking here.

Thanks to a member of the ALIENS-L listserver for posting a link to this story.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Super Models

Those wishing to educate the public about four of the most annoying weeds in the western U.S. now have an intriguing new option to assist them: plastic and silk models. The Center for Invasive Plant Management has developed accurate models of yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis), spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) and dalmation toadflax (Linaria genistifolia ssp. dalmatica). Purchasing information can be found here.

Thanks to a member of the Yahoo! group ma-eppc for posting this information.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Recently Published

New in the journals this month:

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Anchored down in Anchorage?

Anchorage, Alaska can no longer claim to be the largest rat-free port city in the Northern Hemisphere. According to this report from the Anchorage Daily News, several brown and white Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) were recently discovered by a woman and her young son who had stopped to feed some ducks. Anchorage has very strict laws prohibiting the import or possession of any rat without a permit, and no one in town had such a permit. The origin of the rodents is still under investigation.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Fighting Fire with Fire

As reported by The Times of India, the Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad recently released 200,000 gambusia fish (Gambusia sp.) into India's Hussain Sagar Lake, in an attempt to control mosquito populations. Problem is that gambusia themselves are a known invasive species. But there continues to contraversy in India about the introduction: while some claim that the fish dine solely on mosquito larvae, others insist that the fish are a threat to the native flora and fauna of the lake. I'm a bit confused myself, since it appears Hussain Sagar Lake is a man-made body of water (though it is over 400 centuries old).

Thursday, October 16, 2003

The Love Bug(Mobile)

What better way to get the news out about invasive species than with a talking Volkswagen? Well, maybe it sounds a little silly, but then you do get to call your car the "BugMobile." Now everyone can share in the joy of Penn State's BugMobile by viewing their new, award-winning video: "BugMobile vs. The Invasive Species." A report from the Environmental News Network describes the video, which discusses how IPM (Integrated Pest Management) can be used to combat invasive species, and provides details on how to purchase it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Biocontrol Bonanza

Yet another weapon has been added to the U.S. biological control arsenal: Yahoo! News is reporting that New Mexico has joined other western states in releasing Tamarisk leaf beetles (Diorhabda elongata) to manage burgeoning populations of salt cedar (Tamarix spp.). Salt cedar is an invasive tree that causes problems in the already drought-prone western U.S. with its thirsty, water-seeking root system. Right now, this biocontrol is still in the testing phase - scientists are hoping the beetles survive the cool New Mexico winters and can multiply in the spring. There is also some concern that if the beetles have a negative effect on salt cedar, this will in turn have a negative impact on the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax trailii extimus), a bird which has taken to nesting in the salt cedar that has replaced the native vegetation of its habitat.

Thanks to Jeremy at for emailing the link to this report.

Update:There was a conference in Colorado on October 22 where the USDA announced a widespread project to release the leaf beetles in 13 different states next spring. You can read a brief story about it at (Thanks Alex).

Tuesday, October 14, 2003


ARS Newslink is reporting that scientists at the Agricultural Research Service have found several potential biological controls for the nasty, smelly skunk vine (Paederia foetida) that has invaded the southeastern U.S. At least 600 specimens of the best candidate, a flea beetle (Trachyaphthona sordida), have been shipped to a quarantine facility in Hawaii for further testing (i.e. they want to make sure the beetles don't eat native species as well). You can see a whole list of potential biocontrols for skunk vine in this report, and read the entire skunk vine article in this month's issue of Agricultural Research Magazine. Bonus points to ARS Newslink for using scientific names.

Monday, October 13, 2003

South African WeedBusters

Yesterday was the start of South Africa's WeedBusters Week 2003, as reported by Sponsored by the Working for Water program, which is part of the Department of Water Affairs, the campaign aims to target natural areas for invasive species removal, and will also examine ways that the nursery industry can prevent future introductions of invasive plants. The Weedbusters Week campaign is an offshoot of the Australian program mentioned in previous blog entries.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

That Bites.

I already knew that around this time of year in the temperate U.S., Asian ladybugs (Harmonia axyridis can be quite a nuisance, as they seek warmth and shelter inside people's homes. But until this article from The Detroit News, I never knew that they could bite. Apparently they can and do bite humans, something to keep in mind the next time you marvel at one that has landed on you. Asian ladybugs (ladybird beetles) were introduced to the U.S. because they prey on tree-dwelling aphids, something few native ladybugs have a taste for.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Re: Prints

Some interesting reads in the magazine section of your local bookstore this month...

  • The October issue of Yankee Magazine features Asiatic bittersweet (Celastus orbiculatus) on the cover. Inside you'll find the article "New Ideas for Bittersweet," which gives several tips for decorating the outside of your house with fruit-laden branches of this invasive plant. The article does have a little box in the corner of one page, mentioning that bittersweet can be invasive, and recommends pruning it vigorously to control it. Here's my decorating tip: don't use it! The last thing you want is Asiatic bittersweet vines popping up all over your yard next year.
  • Cats & Rats: In the September-October issue of E Magazine, there's an interesting, well-balanced piece about feral cats titled "Kitty the Killer?." Also in that issue is "Getting Rid of Rats," about the effort to rid California's Anacapa Island of the non-native rats that threaten the island's endangered species.

Friday, October 10, 2003

New in Fiction

I just finished reading Chuck Palahniuk's Lullaby, and was surprised to find several pages devoted to a treatise on invasive species, brought to the reader mostly by the annoying self-righteous character known as Oyster. A book that on the surface is about the power of witchcraft and spells, it actually delves deep into the affect humans are having on the world and considers whether there's any turning back. This book is not for the kiddies, and not for the squeamish either, but definitely worth a read if you don't fall into one of the aforementioned categories. Best fictional reference to invasive species I've seen since the brief mentions in Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer. (Know other fictional books that mention invasive species? Email me.)

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

It's gotta be the Maple

Canada is trying to take a proactive stance against the Asian longhorned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis), since its first appearance in that country this past September. So it was good to see this article in RealtyTimes, warning people that although this insect poses no direct threat to human health, it could definitely impact our lives by destroying the trees in our parks and forests. The article provides details about how to spot a tree that has been attacked, who to contact, and other helpful information (even the beetle's scientific name!). And yes, one of the Asian longhorned beetle's favorite snacks: Maple trees.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Flea at last

Not content to let snakeheads steal all the limelight, the tiny, spiny water flea (Bythotrephes cederstroemi) has also made its presence known in the state of Wisconsin. Already a problem in the Great Lakes, the water flea had not been seen in an inland Wisconsin lake until last week, when scientists discovered the species abundant in all parts of Gile Flowage. The state officials are concerned that the appearance of the water flea in this shallow lake is a sign of what is to come for other bodies of water in the area.

Monday, October 06, 2003

The Mysterious Leaf Miner

Radio Netherland is reporting that the mysterious horse chestnut leaf-mining micromoth (Cameraria ohridella) is making its way across Europe, and has spread to the Ukraine and the UK. Originating in Southern Europe (Macedonia), the insect species does not appear to have been catalogued until as recently as the mid-1980s. The favorite host plant for the leaf miners, the horse chestnut ("Conker" tree, Aesculus hippocastanum) is suffering, as populations lose leaves, branches, and eventually entire trees. No one is sure what has caused the insect to spread, but scientists will be holding a symposium in Prague next year to discuss the ecology of the species and options for management. Here's hoping this creature never reaches the US! If you click on the Real Audio link you can hear the original broadcast of this story. Bonus points to Radio Netherland for using the insect's scientific name.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

The Year in Weeds

Just finished work on the 2004 Invasive Plants of North America Wall Calendars. Each month of the yearly calendar features a different invasive plant. You can order this and other invasive plant gear from the ISW store.

front cover of wall calendar

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Islands Effected

At a recent conference in Switzerland, scientists gave several presentations about effects of non-native plant introductions on islands in the Indian Ocean. As reported at Seychelles Nation Online, the islands of Seychelles, Mauritius, Reunion and Comoros are dealing with a variety of non-native plant invasions, including Koster's curse (Clidemia hirta) and possibly even an orchid species, Orchid�e Coco (unsure of scientific name).

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Lit Search

New in the peer-reveiwed journals:

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Imperfect Pear

If you're planning on incorporating Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana, also known as Callery pear) into your landscaping or street plantings, you may want to reconsider. As reported in the Washington Post and also in the Newark Star Ledger (must enter zip code etc. to access article), the trees are falling (pun intended) left and right since Hurricane Isabella blew through a couple of weeks ago. The Callery pear, a tree native to Asia, has been widely planted along streets in the eastern U.S., and is admired for its beautiful white flowers. Unfortunately, the trees are now also known for their short lifespan (around twenty years) and their tendency to break apart all the way down to the trunk.

Thanks to a member of the Yahoo! group ma-eppc for posting the Post story.