Sunday, July 31, 2005

Comment? No Comment?

The final report is out from New York's Invasive Species Task Force, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation has put it up for public review. As reported by The Journal News, the task force, created in 2003 by legislation signed by Governor George Pataki, is seeking comments on the report, and is even holding public meetings around the state to discuss it. If you're from New York and want to get involved, or if you just want to see what one of these reports looks like, you can download it here (.pdf). The ISTF's recommendations are typically vague (Summary: form committees, make a management plan, share data, spend $$) up until about #10 ("Encourage nonregulatory approaches to regulation") and #11 ("Influence Federal actions..."), otherwise very little new there in the conclusions department.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Not so Bashful

An article at Thahn Nien News highlights a tropical American plant invading southern Vietnam. The "bashful plant" (Mimosa pigra), also as "sensitive plant" due to its ability to bend its leaves and leaflets in response to physical disturbance, was introduced to Tram Chim National Park over two decades ago. The shrubs now cover a third of the park's 7500 acres. Park officials have found little in the way of effective treatment to manage the invaders, but are hoping to eventually have access to biological controls that have been successful in places like Australia.

Bonus points to Thahn Nien News for using the plant's scientific name.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

We Don't Need No Speciation

A letter published in this week's issue of the journal Nature describes the apparent speciation of a fly via the invasive shrub honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.). The Lonicera Fly is a hybrid of Rhagoletis mendax and R. zephyria but can maintain its own populations via sexual reproduction. Because the parent species are both native to the U.S. and have native plants to which they are host-specific, the hybrid's shift to shrub honeysuckles is a relatively recent one (on an evolutionary scale). Those of you who would like more details should check out lead author Dietmar Schwarz's Ph.D. thesis (.pdf) or if you want something a little less hardcore, see this National Geographic News article or Dietmar's web page.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Ballast Blast

Update: Looks like the Ballast Water Management Act of 2005 is moving forward. As reported by, bill S. 363 was unanimously approved by the Commerce Committee. The ISW reported about this bill, thought by some to usurp state/local ballast management regulations already in effect, last week. Next stop for S. 363 is a vote by the full Senate.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Ant Farm

Ant Farm II Originally uploaded by urtica.
Ant Farm Over the past couple of weeks I have been photo-documenting creatures found on purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) on Flickr. Yesterday I found a plant covered with small ants that were tending to a colony of tiny green aphids. While I have seen several different types of ants on purple loosestrife before, this is the first time I've ever seen them with an aphid colony.

If you are a Flickr member and would like to contribute to the Life on the Purple Loosestrife project, go here. You could win a free Flickr Pro account!

Update 8/05/05: Turns out that there is a species of aphid, Myzus lythri, that feeds only on purple loosestrife. It is thought to have been introduced from Europe around the same time purple loosestrife started showing up in the U.S. I have sent samples off to be identified and will post here when I find out what species they are.

Update 9/30/05: The ants in this photo were identified as Crematogaster cerasi by a scientist from the Systematic Entomology Laboratory. I am still waiting on the aphid id.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Rusty Blackberries

According to this article over at ABC News, a rust fungus (Phragmidium violaceum) used as a biological control for unwanted blackberry plants (Rubus spp.) has been accidentally introduced into the U.S. Ironically, the U.S. was considering introducing the fungus intentionally to help control the invasive Himalayan blackberry (Rubus discolor). Now the rust has been found in several spots in Oregon, first on Himalayan blackberry and later in almost every single farmed blackberry field. Oregon officials are concerned about the susceptibility the marionberry (Rubus ursinus), the state's official berry, which is also their second largest farmed blackberry crop.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Privet Drive

Interesting article in The Macon Telegraph about invasive species problems in Georgia. Two of the big problem plants, Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) and Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis), are invading natural areas after decades of ornamental plantings. One homeowner notes that the wisteria in his yard might be beating out the infamous kudzu vine. This is a comprehensive article that puts the spotlight on a variety of different organism types, from plants to ants.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

"Budding Awareness"

Currently making the newspaper rounds is this Knight Ridder article about invasive species. The article mentions a few of the "big baddies" and discusses the increase in public awareness about invasives over the past few years. A well-written and researched article but they lose points for succumbing to the allure of the phrase "wreaking havoc" :-).

Friday, July 22, 2005

Pocket Kings

Some cool public outreach from the Sonoran Desert Invasive Species Council: If you're willing to spend a little time pulling weeds in Arizona, you might just walk away with a deck of invasive species playing cards. The Arizona Republic mentions the cards in this story about raising awareness about the profound, fiery effect non-native plants have had on the Sonoran Desert this season. Similar to the U.S. military's deck of "most-wanted" Iraqi leaders, the big baddies of the invasive plants are featured in the spades suit. I guess sometimes having a royal flush is not a good thing :-).

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Izunuma Method

With the Invasive Alien Species Act in full effect, is reporting that Japan is setting its sights on getting rid of the black bass (Micropterus spp.). Using the "Izunuma Method," (possibly named after the Izunuma-Uchinuma marshland) a group called the "Bass Busters" is reducing bass populations by going to marshes and setting up plant trays. The bass are tricked into breeding on these artificial beds, then can be removed along with any fry or eggs the adults are protecting.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Walk -n- Weed

The Friends of Mangemangeroa have come up with a unique way to control weeds at the Mangemangeroa Reserve in New Zealand. As reported by Howick and Pakuranga Times, the public has been asked to help rid the park of invasive plants by pulling them out as they pass through on their daily strolls. Bags can be picked up and deposited at the entrance and exit of the park, where they will be collected by contractors and disposed of. I like this idea, but how do people know which are the right plants to uproot?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Invader Activists

How often do you get an email from an environmentally-minded group telling you *not* to support a bill that sounds like it's going to protect the environment? That's what arrived in my Inbox this morning from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Seems some senators are trying to push the Ballast Water Management Act of 2005 (S 363) through to a quick approval. Funny, it doesn't seem like that long ago I was posting about NAISA, a much more comprehensive Act. The UCS thinks NAISA is in serious jeopardy if legislation specific to ballast is passed. Me, I think we need to stop dividing up invasive species management into compartments (aquatic vs. terrestrial, freshwater vs. marine, plants vs. animals) and realize that if everyone works together, we can avoid a lot of duplication of effort and maybe even learn things from each other.

Since I can't seem to find any trace of this issue on the UCS website, I am taking the liberty of pasting the whole email here. If one of your senators is on the Commerce committee and you feel strongly about this, I urge you to call before this Thursday to let your opinion be heard.

SSI alert: Urgent. Stop a bad ballast water bill

**************** EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ****************

ISSUE On Thursday, July 21, the Senate Commerce Committee - on which one of your Senators sits - is scheduled to vote on a bill to address invasive species in the ballast water of ships. Unfortunately, this bill is weaker and far narrower than the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act (NAISA) - which UCS supports. If passed, the bill would reduce NAISA's prospects sharply and delay enactment of stronger policy for years.

THE ACTION Call your Senator.

MAIN MESSAGES: Please do not pass Senate Bill 363 as it stands now. Instead, support S. 770, a means to provide stronger federal leadership in preventing further devastation by aquatic invasive species.

DEADLINE: ASAP. The Committee meets on Thursday morning.


*** THE ISSUE ***

The U.S. Congress is currently debating bills related to the introduction of aquatic invasive species. The most comprehensive of these bills, the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act (NAISA), was re-introduced into the current Congress (109th) by a bi-partisan group of members. If passed, NAISA would reauthorize and strengthen the National Invasive Species Act of 1996. It contains provisions to: regulate ballast discharge from commercial vessels; prevent invasive species introductions from other pathways; support state management plans; screen live aquatic organisms entering the United States for the first time commercially; authorize rapid response funds; create education and outreach programs; conduct research on invasion pathways, and prevention and control technologies; authorize funds for state and regional grants; and strengthen specific prevention efforts in the Great Lakes.

In contrast to the more comprehensive NAISA, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), with strong support from Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) introduced a limited bill, the Ballast Management Act of 2005 (S 363). This bill addresses only invasive species in the ballast water of ships and so it does not provide the much-needed comprehensive solution to the national problem of invasive species moved by ships nor those introduced by other means. Even worse, its plan for managing ballast water would preempt stronger state laws, stretch out implementation to more than a decade, and usurp existing protections in the Clean Water Act. Unfortunately, Senator Inouye's industry-supported bill has gained momentum in the U.S. Senate

On Thursday, the Senate Commerce Committee is expected to ready the bill for a vote, or "mark-up" the bill. This mark-up is an opportunity for members of the committee, including one of your Senators, to not pass the Ballast Management Act (S. 363) and ask for comprehensive action on aquatic invaders by supporting NAISA (S. 770).

*** THE ACTION ***

Call your Senator (phone number below) to express your opposition to S. 363, the Ballast Management Act of 2005 and urge him or her to not support the bill when the Commerce Committee considers it later this week.


ASAP. The Committee meets on Thursday morning.


The Ballast Management Act of 2005 addresses only invasive species in the ballast water of ships. For example, it does not cover potentially invasive aquatic organisms that foul ships' hulls, nor does it address those that are intentionally introduced via aquaculture, the aquarium trade and other means not related to ships. Thus it does not provide the much-needed comprehensive solution to the national problem of aquatic invasive species. Even worse, its plan for managing ballast water would preempt stronger state laws, stretch out implementation of new standards to more than a decade, and usurp existing protections in the Clean Water Act. A more effective solution exists in Senate Bill 770, the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act (NAISA).

Please do not pass S.363 as it stands now. Instead, support S. 770, a means to provide stronger federal leadership in preventing further devastation from aquatic invasive species. Congressional staff can learn more about the bills from leading experts from around the country at two briefings.

-- LET US KNOW: Please send us an email message that tells us what action you took. Send to:


Since 1990, the United States has searched for effective means to protect marine and other aquatic resources from invasive species, especially those carried in the ballast water of ships. In both federal legislation and regulation, the trend has been toward more stringent and comprehensive national approaches, based on growing scientific understanding. Where states and regions have judged federal law and enforcement inadequate, they have put stronger programs in place. When federal agencies limited the application of the Clean Water Act to ships' ballast water, citizens' groups have sued - and won.

In contrast, the legislation in S.363 represents a step backward.

Specifically, S.363 would:

  • Preempt stronger state laws that require ballast water treatment for over a decade while the bill's standards are implemented;
  • Supercede the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) authority under the Clean Water Act, creating a dangerous loophole for at least invasive species and potentially other pollutants discharged in ballast water;
  • Delay implementation of ballast water management for an unacceptably long time, relying for over a decade on outdated ballast water exchange - which research has shown to be ineffective;
  • Lock-in current Coast Guard regulatory exemptions for the 90% of ships that enter the Great Lakes under a loophole by being classified as having "No Ballast On Board," just when the Coast Guard has committed to tightening regulations for these ships;
  • Force a treatment standard for ballast water this is weaker than that which EPA and the Coast Guard decided was needed and, thus, recommended while negotiating the International Maritime Organization's Ballast Water Convention in 2004;
  • Exempt additional types of shipping traffic and voyages that contribute to the spread of invasive species.

A more effective solution exists in S.770, the National Invasive Species Act (NAISA). This bill has had input from scientists and the environmental community since 2002 and it was clarified further before re-introduction in early 2005. It contains provisions for research; the nation's first mandatory screening program for certain intentional introductions, and help for states. UCS considers NAISA's passage critical for further progress on national invasive species policy.

Congressional staff can learn more about these issues at two briefings next week. State officials, regional experts, and leading scientists from across the United States will speak and answer questions in the U.S. Capitol building. Briefings are scheduled for:

Tuesday, July 26, 3:00-4:30 pm, SC-6
Thursday, July 28, 1:00-2:30 pm, HC-8


Shipping is considered the most important vector of aquatic invasive species and the discharge of ships' ballast water is the major means of introducing such species to the Great Lakes, the Columbia River Basin, San Francisco Bay, and other aquatic ecosystems throughout the United States.

It is widely accepted that this process is exacting increasing and substantial costs on the economy, environment, and human health. Aquatic invasive species affect industries, like water and power utilities, commercial and recreational fishing and agriculture. For example, maintaining pipes clogged by just one invader - the zebra mussel - costs the power industry up to $60 million per year. Invaders transported by ballast water affect inland waters as well as coastal ones - as midwestern states affected by zebra mussels in their rivers can attest. Also, ballast water often contains human pathogens, creating threats to those in contact with it.

PLEASE CALL OR EMAIL THE FOLLOWING SENATE OFFICES TO URGE SENATORS TO OPPOSE S. 363. Feel free to pass along this message to others in your state.


  • AR: Mark Pryor, 202.224.2353
  • AZ: John McCain, 202.224.2235
  • CA: Barbara Boxer, 202.224.3553
  • FL: Bill Nelson, 202.224.6551
  • MA: John Kerry, 202.224.2742
  • ME: Olympia Snowe, 202.224.5344
  • ND: Byron Dorgan, 202.224.2551
  • NE: Ben Nelson, 202.224.6551
  • NH: John E. Sununu, 202.224.2841
  • NJ: * Frank Lautenberg, 202.224.3224
  • NV: John Ensign, 202.224.6244
  • OR: Gordon Smith, 202.224.3753
  • VA: George Allen, 202.224.4024
  • WV: John D. Rockefeller, 202.224.6472

    * Current sponsor of S. 363

UCS overview of NAISA

Library of Congress web site (to read the bills search on S363 and S 770)

National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species (NECIS)


NOTE: Please send us an email message that tells us what action you took. Send to: or UCS, 2 Brattle Square, Cambridge, MA 02238-9105 (attn. Jason Mathers).

Monday, July 18, 2005

Eaten Alive

Those of us in the invasive species world have heard a lot about why species on islands are particularly vulnerable to new predators and pathogens. The mantra is that island species evolved in a very isolated environment and frequently do not have any natural defenses against non-native species. Now is reporting about a research project that demonstrates this harsh reality in progress. A husband and wife research team studying the tristan albatross (Diomedea dabbenena) on Gough Island found that the main culprit behind the massive rise in albatross chick deaths is introduced house mice (Mus musculus). An accompanying video shows the apparently learned behavior of the mice, who gang up on defenseless chicks and doom them to a slow death. If you are at all squeamish or you are under 18, do not watch the video! The chicks do not seem to have any idea how to react to the attacks, and it is absolutely heart-wrenching to see how they take the abuse. I know I will be having nightmares tonight. :-(

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Time for a School Kill?

Last year the ISW featured a post about a northern snakehead (Channa argus) found in a pond in Pennsylvania. Now there's an update from the BASS Times, and news is not good. Many more snakeheads have been caught this season, ranging from a hefty 5-pounder to one only 4.5 inches long. That means the snakeheads not only survived the winter, but they have likely established breeding populations. How long before one is caught in the Schuylkill or Delaware River? Officials are worried, but the article doesn't mention any plans in the works to prevent that from happening.

Friday, July 15, 2005

We Want...A Native Shrubbery!

Wednesday's Morning Edition on NPR had this nice piece (audio only) about the issue of selling cultivars of invasive plants. Based in Connecticut, the report explores the ecological side of the issue as well as the economic side (what do you do when some of these plants are your nursery's bread and butter?). Connecticut is currently considering banning the sale of Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), burning bush (Euonymus alata), and Norway maple (Acer platanoides).

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Beetlenews Beetlenews Beetlenews!

The story reported by the ISW back in late June, about the Asian longhorned beetles found in California, is just making the news rounds. Read more details from the San Francisco Chronicle (What took you so long, guys?). In case you missed it, the original ISW post is here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Holy Carp!

Michael Jones of Dennison, Texas spent over an hour fighting something big at the end of his fishing reel, but he had no idea how big. When it was over, according to this story from the Herald Democrat, he had landed a world record 70 lb. silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix). Nobody knows how the carp, a prohibited species in Texas, ended up in Lake Texoma. This is also a new record for Texas: the first silver carp ever found in that state.

Bonus points to Mike for holding that huge fish in his hands and grinning like a son-of-a-gun!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

You do the Vector Math

There are currently quarantines on ash wood products in areas of Ohio and Michigan where the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) has taken up residence. So officials in Ohio were understandably frustrated when they found that someone brought contaminated firewood into the Wild Wings Campground, and understandably upset when they found a nearby ash tree with three larvae in it. As reported by the Toledo Blade, all ash trees within a half-mile radius of the infected tree will now have to be destroyed, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture will be closely monitoring ashes in surrounding areas for signs of the beetles. Anyone caught importing ash wood products or any firewood from non-coniferous trees from Michigan could be subject to as much as a $4000 fine. The interesting question is: Did the contaminated firewood come from a quarantined area, or from an infested place that has yet to be discovered?

Monday, July 11, 2005

New in the Literature

Recently published journal articles:

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Draining the Lizards

I admit it: I clicked on a link this article from the The Courier-Journal because of the cute title. European wall lizards (Podarcis muralis) have invaded Falls of the Ohio State Park in Indiana, probably hitchhiking down the Ohio River to get there. Concerned about the impact those reptiles could have on native lizards species (something they enjoy eating, apparently), state biologists have begun trapping the lizards using strawberry jam. The jam entices the lizards, and the sticky substance surrounding them keeps them there until someone checks the trap. Native species are released, while the European wall lizards are euthanized.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Piled higher. and Deeper.

Wishing for long hard hours in the field, followed by long, hard hours in a lab? If you're thinking of translating your interest in invasive species into a higher degree, check out this web page from It lists U.S. universities and corresponding departments where you might consider applying.

If you are new to the grad school thing, keep in mind that getting in is typically not easy, and your chances are much better if you target your potential advisors beforehand, read up on their most recent publications, and contact them directly (other grads and former grads, feel free to pipe in here!). Also, note that the link above is definitely not a complete list - I can see my alma mater UMass Boston is missing, though I know of several invasive species projects currently going on in the Biology Department. So if you don't find someone that matches your interests through that list, just try searching Google.

Thanks to Thomas D. for sending in the link. A tip of the virtual hat must also go to the excellent online comic PhD for making my labmates and me smile when it seemed like we would never dig ourselves out of graditude.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Spidey Sense

Interesting story from The Ellsworth American about European spiders that have invaded Maine. The tiny European hammock spider (Linyphia triangularis) is the focus of a research project for Jeremy Houser, a UMass Amherst Ph.D. student. Jeremy notes that in the areas of Acadia National Park where the non-native spider has taken up residence, similar native spiders have suffered. The European arachnid currently makes up almost 100 percent of all spiders found along the coastline of Acadia!

Bonus points to The Ellsworth American for using the spider's scientific name.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Blame it on the Rain

Blame it on the huge rainfall Arizona received this past winter, or blame it on environmental degradation, or blame it on the invasive weeds. Any way you look at it, the East Valley Tribune is reporting that last month Arizona had the second largest wildfire in its history. The immediate causes were hot, dry weather and an unusually large crop of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), a non-native species that grows in wide swarths and burns hotter and faster than native Sonoran Desert grasses. Over in Utah, KSL TV is reporting that cheatgrass is being blamed for fires that are endangering the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), an already threatened species.

Thanks to D. Patterson for pointing out the wildfire crisis.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Garden Dining

The Bennington Banner has this story about the "Meet Them, Eat Them" seminar held by the Bennington County Conservation District in Vermont. Participants learned about the state's invasive plants, how to remove them, and then how to make them into tasty treats. The Nature Conservancy's Rose Paul even referred to invasive plants as "McFlora." Poor McDonalds, they must hate that "Mc"-ing of everything! Actually, I think it would be more accurate to refer to pansies, marigolds and geraniums as "McFlora." Got any suggestions for a better nickname for invasive plants? Post comments below.

The article mentions Japanese knotweed a few times (as "knotwood"), then ends with a note about using weeds as compost for growing mushrooms. I highly recommend that you avoid using knotweed in compost, unless you are absolutely sure that the vegetation has been 100% pulverized, burned or boiled to death. Even the tiniest fragments of Japanese knotweed rhizomes or stem nodes can grow into new plants!

Thanks to Al over at Urban Wild for sending in a link to the article.

Monday, July 04, 2005

If a million trees fall in the forest...

BBC News has this report about Keepers of Time: A Statement of Policy for England's Ancient and Native Woodland, a massive English Forestry Commission project to replace non-native trees with native ones. Long ago English forests were depleted for ship building and home construction, and they were replanted with a variety of fast-growing, non-native conifers, including Norway spruce (Picea abies) and North American species of spruce and pine. Now many of these trees and other non-natives are going to be cut down to make way for what officials are hoping is a massive regeneration of native trees. The plan also calls for conversion of plantation lands back to forest.

Thanks to Val C. for sending in a link to the story.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Last First Post

This is a bit old, but I missed reporting about the discovery of zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) on a boat about to enter Lake Winnipesaukee. According to this report from the New Hampshire Union Leader, the boat arrived from Ohio the week of June 5th, underwent a routine inspection, and was found to have zebra mussels in several areas, including the engine. The article notes that inspectors pay special attention to any boats coming from the Midwest region, and that the boater had used his vehicle in the Great Lakes. There are currently no known populations of the bivalves in the state of New Hampshire.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Rusted Out

New and notable in Massachusetts this week is daylily rust (Puccinia hemerocallidis), a fungus that attacks, you guessed it, daylilies. The Massachusetts Introduced Pests Outreach Project put out this pest alert to warn nurseries and gardeners of the first diagnosed case of the year. The rust has only been known in Massachusetts since around 2003, and was discovered in the U.S. in 2000. Its hosts appear to be limited to the non-native Hemerocallis (daylily), Patrinia, and Hosta genera.