Saturday, December 31, 2011

The World of Invasive Species is Divided into three Camps

               The world is divided into three groups when  it comes to invasive species. The first and largest is the group that has no idea, information or opinion about what an invasive species is or may be let alone whether there is reason for concern or not. This largest of constituencies is only interested in non human species when they slither into its bedrooms (pythons), bring disease (tiger mosquitoes), decreases harvest of baseball bats (emerald ash borer) or pulls down power lines (kudzu) needed to stay connected to social media.

               The second interest group has decided the information at hand warrants no concern and no focus or allocation of resources or consideration. In some sense this group has decided to live for today knowing that tomorrow will take care of itself as well as any human generations that may come. The third broad constituency, on the other hand,  sees a problem  and want to prevent what it can and fix what is damaged in order to preserve a future of maximum opportunities based upon present understandings of biological diversity. This last group's  invasive species positions are based upon an understanding that human welfare both directly and indirectly depends on the environment, a concept that the first group never thinks about and the presumptions about which the second groups has questions.

               Irreversible environmental damage to ecological system resources and services negatively affect  future generations' abilities to achieve quality of life goals. The chronic disruption of natural ecosystems caused by human development activities include the introduction and establishment of novel species that replace existing species' relationships and interactions. A major difficulty arises in any effort to assign a value that would allow an easy decision or choice as to what steps to take in regards to an invasive species issue. The  challenge is in determining the estimation of the economic value of environmental resources, service or effects, as well as the possible conflicts between the discounting of ecological effects and long-term environmental and sustainability concerns.[1]

               In a sense the whole idea of environmental evaluation lead directly to a conflict between the conservation of environmental assets including indigenous species patterns and aggregations versus traditional patterns of economic development such as the clearance of land for agriculture and urban development.  To safeguard future generations' access to ecological services, present human activities (development) would seem to require that the present generation restrict the use of scarce ecological resources.[2] But that is pretty much not going to happen in a world staring at human population numbers growing  to 9 plus billion within this century.

                If an invasive species has not yet made a measurable or economical impact on a field, landscape or natural area, most people ask why spend money on something that has not happened? It is the same problem facing schools versus prisons; why spend money on education of many individuals to prevent crimes of a few when one can wait until a crime is committed and then remove the specific individual from the community as a whole. Of course when it comes to personal health, we rather reluctantly almost get the prevention thing because our mothers told us so. When it comes to consideration of the environment, however, Mother's advice goes out the window. 

               The first two group's preoccupation with the present results in a cascading series of decisions that extend beyond invasive species inaction. Bridges are not repaired, libraries are closed and research into environmental tools are shut down. USDA-ARS, for example, is closing its Kika de la Garza Subtropical Agricultural Research Center founding in 1935 in Texas along with 9 other locations across the US because it can no longer afford to support the scientific work done there on:  

1) Integrated pest management (IPM) of parasites and diseases of honey bee colonies; 2) Biological control methods used to identify and defeat present and potential pest threats to Rio Grande Valley agriculture; 3) Organic farming systems utilizing holistic approaches to healthy and nutritious food production; 4) Quarantine treatments of subtropical fruits and vegetables; 5) Post harvest treatments of produce for disinfestations by non-chemical means; 6) Aerial remote sensing of agricultural problems; and 7) Pesticide tolerance of vegetables, ornamental, and specialty crops for registration labeling and EPA compliance.

               Another example of groups one and two unintentional and unplanned collaboration  is the budget driven decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop funding its enormously successful Aquatic Plant Control Research Program. The program traces its original to the catastrophic introduction of a non-indigenous aquatic plant, water-hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes (Mart.) Solms), which rapidly infested the waters of Florida and Louisiana.  The elimination of terrestrial and aquatic biological control research is short sighted, foolish and just plain stupid, but reflects a society concerned now with that it can get today not what it will leave for its children tomorrow.   

               Thus, it comes down to a series of trade-offs as to what to do with invasive species, their introduction, establishment and control. This is pretty much the life of a gardener; a series of morning decisions based on unsatisfactory trade-offs involving resources such as time and money. It also makes the gardener's case that an touch of prevention is worth more than a costly excursion of eradication and control after the fact. But who has time to listen to gardeners anymore?

[1] Jan Douwe Meindertsma. “Agricultural Research for Development” [accessed December 31, 2011]
[2] David Pearce. 1993. Valuing The Environment: Past Practice,Future Prospect. [accessed December 31, 2011]

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Recommendations to NISC from the ISAC Meeting held December 6-8, 2011

December 20, 2011

TO: Members of the National Invasive Species Council (NISC)
SUBJECT: Recommendations to NISC from the ISAC Meeting held December 6-8, 2011
During the December 6-8, 2011 meeting held in Washington, DC, ISAC agreed upon the following recommendations:

Recommendation #1: ISAC recommends that NISC support and encourage the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences review of frameworks for the validation of advanced molecular assays for aquatic invasive species detection technologies and their protocols.

Recommendation #2: Expanding trade across the Pacific poses a dual challenge to the control of invasive species. First, there is a high potential for introductions of new species in both directions.
Second, there is a high potential that some introduced species will become invasive because of similarities between the climates and ecology of central and eastern Asia and North America.
In light of these challenges and the potential negative impacts of the introduction of invasive species in either direction across the Pacific on the economies and environment of the U.S. and its trading partners in eastern Asia, ISAC recommends that the Department of State seek the cooperation of appropriate agencies in convening a multilateral meeting of scientists and governmental representatives from APEC countries to develop measures to prevent the introduction of invasive species in the course of transpacific commerce.

Recommendation #3: ISAC recommends that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers immediately reinstate the funding for the Aquatic Plant Control Research Program due to its national importance in the control and management of aquatic invasive plants.

E. Ann Gibbs
Chair, Invasive Species Advisory Committee
Maine Department of Agriculture

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thinking about Invasive Species, Plants and Definitions

Initial damage appears as thinning and dieback in the upper canopy of the tree as larvae feed under the bark they damage the conductive tissue  

               Some plant species are introduced by human activity into new ecosystems at such a rate that they can overcome the odds and establish themselves in the landscape. A few of these plant species do more than just establish they multiply so fast and so aggressively as to crowd out any other plant species creating a biological desert bereft of diversity. Some of these species have become notorious in the last few decades such as kudzu (Pueraria montana (Lour.) Merr. var. lobata (Willd.) Maesen & S. Almeida) and the various salt cedars or, tamarisks (Tamarix spp.); some such as common barberry (Berberis vulgaris L.) in the 18th century or field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis L.) in the 20th century began their rise to pest status even before we used the term invasive species. Interestingly enough the colony of Connecticut tried to ban barberry in 1726 way before there even was a United States. [Connecticut keeps trying to ban plants. 2010]

               These plants are not indigenous to North America and so by extension we begin think all alien non native plants are suspect. The cognitive dissonance that arises when we find out wheat (Triticum spp.) is also not native is disturbing to a native only perspective. Then there is the little problem of impact, benefit and harm when it comes to judging a species place in the ecosystems in which we find ourselves. And just to layer on the complications, the non native exotic plant itself may be harmless but maybe a host for invasive hitchhikers (insects and pathogens) The native ash tree. for exmaple, can be a vector or a transport platform for the non native emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire) which destroys both native and non native ash species. [A Menacing Discovery Of the Emerald Ash Borer in Moscow. 2007]  

               Defining invasive species is the first step to finding solutions.  A good resource is the  Invasive Species Definition Clarification and Guidance White Paper from 2006 which defines an invasive species as: 
“an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” In the Executive Summary of the National Invasive Species Management Plan (NISMP) the term invasive species is further clarified and defined as “a species that is non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” To provide guidance for the development and implementation of the NISMP, the National Invasive Species Council (NISC) and the Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC) adopted a set of principles outlined in Appendix 6 of the NISMP. Guiding Principle #1 provides additional context for defining the term invasive species and states “many alien species are non-invasive and support human livelihoods or a preferred quality of life.” However, some alien species (non-native will be used in this white paper because it is more descriptive than alien), for example West Nile virus, are considered invasive and undesirable by virtually everyone. Other non-native species are not as easily characterized. For example, some non-native species are considered harmful, and therefore, invasive by some sectors of our society while others consider them beneficial. This discontinuity is reflective of the different value systems operating in our free society, and contributes to the complexity of defining the term invasive species.[1]

[1] Invasive Species Defined in a Policy Context: Recommendations from the Federal Invasive
Species Advisory Committee. 2006. K. George Beck, Kenneth Zimmerman, Jeffrey D. Schardt, Jeffrey Stone, Ronald R. Lukens, Sarah Reichard, John Randall, Allegra A. Cangelosi, Diane Cooper, and John Peter Thompson*

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Loss of an Herbarium: another "library" lost; the decline of scientific infrastructure

Everything you need to know is NOT on Google and our lack of attention tyo scientific infrastrucre is a great threat to the futureThe ARS Crop Production Systems Research Unit Herbarium (acronym SWSL) at Stoneville, Mississippi is being placed on excess and is available to any USDA-ARS management unit that is interested in acquiring and maintaining it.

The herbarium holdings include 27 metal cabinets (good to fair condition), 4 laminated cabinets (poor condition), about 18,000 mounted specimens representing about 5,700 species, a few un-mounted specimens, and limited supplies of mounting paper, folders and glue.  The total floor space required for the herbarium (cabinets and supplies) is approximately 400 square feet. 

The recipient of the herbarium (cabinets and supplies) must take the herbarium as a single unit and pay for packing and shipping or transport costs of cabinets and all materials related to the herbarium.  The estimated weight of cabinets, specimens, and supplies is about 10,000 pounds and 22,000 cubic feet.

If you are interested in acquiring the herbarium or require additional information, please contact Dr. Krishna Reddy at  (phone             662-686-5222      ) with a copy to Dr. Charles Bryson  by Friday COB, December 23, 2011.