Monday, January 01, 2007

Unusual or common invasive pathways?

Invasive species enter new ecosystems through a plethora of pathways. Some of the entry points are obvious such as direct importation of plants or pets for resale to the public. Some pathways are hidden in plain sight, such as organisms which quietly cling to packing materials or clothing or vehicles and drop off without notice into new areas for colonization. Sometimes, invasive species are less obvious arriving disguised as packing materials in, on and from pallets manufactured overseas.

Our very own Christmas shop offered a faux bird’s nest holiday accessory/ornament which looked like feathers or down. Upon closer inspection, it appeared to be made from a grassy material which we thought was Miscanthus spp. This was bad enough, and we notified the Maryland Department of Agriculture, which in turned notified USDA, which immediately sent an inspector. The experts at USDA trumped our own expertise and declared the material to be Phragmites; most likely species australis. The seeds would fly suspended like paratroopers in the air right in front of us. The slightest breeze would move them to a beachhead for invasion. Of course, Phragmites is already here in force, so nothing more was said officially. We took all the potential invaders from the shelves and placed them in a sealed bag, and, quoting my colleague, Mr. Hurley, "This was akin to treating it like radioactive waste with similar disposal challenges. "

We were able to address this item as a potential problem because of our efforts and time devoted to the issues of invasive species. This knowledge and reaction is not to be expected from the general public as the very definition is barely accepted by the community of cognoscenti, and has not reached the public at large. How many other holiday gifts were potential Trojan horses? A few years ago, we carried bags of pine cones for sale; they were from India and potentially contained a beetle. Here are the notes from the Maryland Invasive Species Council meeting, December 16th, 2003:

Pine Cones from India - Fred Mann
• in Iate November, beetle larvae found in decorative pine cone display
• national recall - Franks, Dollar Tree, K-mart, Walmart, Target
• need help finding infested material in marketplace, APHIS is coordinating volunteer effort
• Target and K-mart have programmed UPC code to display message to stop sale.
• Maryland has found infested material - pupa and adult in display case (sample box displayed)
• APHIS Web page, cone beetle/pinecones.html, will
list UPC codes
3 of 3
• only one lot number is in national recall
• much product has already been sold
• pine cones in w/ Christmas trees in garbage - disaster waiting to happen
• probable emergence in homes in next couple weeks, low risk for establishment
• fumigation stickers on product from India into Canada where re-packaged??

Unintentional introductions play a role in the invasive species discussion, and there are many pathways which provide both intentional and unintentional possibilities. Choosing when and where and therefore how to respond becomes an economic decision since it is cost prohibitive to try to seal the borders from every possibility.

1 comment:

Jennifer Forman Orth said...

Very interesting use of Phrag :-).

I think the reaction from the public is dependent on the ability to recognize the problem. Grass seeds used in crafts are benign and static and not very noticeable.

The public has actually done a decent job of noticing some pests, such as this case back in 2004, where an alert customer led to the discovery of beetle-infested wooden trunks on artificial Christmas trees. In these cases people are probably not thinking "Hmm...invasive species?" but rather "Ick! Bugs!"

So how can we encourage the public to recognize and question more potential vectors? Better labeling of products might be one way.