Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Invasive Species; Wickedly Inconvenient Still

I once again draw your attention to the wicked inconvenience that surrounds discussions about invasive species. The complex nature of wicked problems, like invasive species, creates difficulties for the interest group’s definition. Therefore, a stakeholder group will use their own particular end goal to produce their own branded definition. If you are interested in restoring an eco-system to a certain place and time, then your definition of an invasive species will include a certain amount of implied negatives and will call for the eradication and removal in an effort to restore a previous system balance.

Hence comes “biologist Nancy Rybicki has been studying nonnative plant species in the Potomac River for 30 years.”[Baltimore Sun Tom Pelton Sun Reporter
July 30, 2007]. She claims that some invasive species have helped restore balance within the Potomac river, and that we should be cautious about our absolutes when trying to determine potential courses of action. She is paraphrasing another defining characteristic of a wicked problem, which is that “Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem"[ From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia], and that “Every solution to a wicked problem is a "one-shot operation"; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly.”

Invasive species can be defined as a wicked problem according to four features, which are “according to Conklin:

The problem is not understood until after formulation of a solution.
Stakeholders have radically different world views and different frames for understanding the problem.
Constraints and resources to solve the problem change over time.
The problem is never solved.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

:” Despite its monstrous appearance, hydrilla has been growing in harmony with other plants and providing food for birds, said Rybicki, a hydrologist and biologist.” [Baltimore Sun Tom Pelton Sun Reporter ;July 30, 2007]. “"We should still be cautious about exotic species ... but it's more complex than to just say exotics are all damaging to the environment," Rybicki said. "We have not seen the exotics displace the native species here on the Potomac River, which is what was feared."

The collision between differing end goals is the wicked inconvenience of invasive species. The rush to one size fits all may leads to complex long term change which is mostly unintended. Add to this, global climate change, and simple definitions and reactions quickly become inadequate. Invasive species are symptomatic of a larger problem, which is ultimately the same problem humanity has been struggling with since it first became aware of itself. What is our place in the world, and how will we continue to survive within the world tomorrow?

Monday, July 30, 2007

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Invasive Species Beauty

I happened upon the following post at http://allnaturesings.blogspot.com/2007/07/mimosa-tree.html. Here is my reply:

Invasive species evince passion because, beneath the seeming complexity of environmental considerations, certain prominent species hide behind traditional, received cultural dictates about beauty. The common garden weed is, at some level, an invasive species, and is removed without controversy, unless it happens to be an endangered species caught in the cross-fire of development. Loose strife, mimosa, and other visually stunning species are seductive as they fulfill our beauty in landscape expectations.

Out gardens are based on centuries of landscape design principles which are grounded in the need to control nature, and to keep nature at a distance. Within the confine of our pale reflection of the Garden of Eden, foreign exotic plants provide contrast and artistic relief in a highly controlled environments. When these plants escape uncontrolled into the local or regional eco-systems, replacing native species, and in some cases creating invasive mono cultures, or as I call them biological deserts, we are faced with major reductions in diversity of species.

Because diversity is not welcomed without what I call plant species literacy, we tend to like specimen plantings of restrained, but great contrast, whether as to form, texture or color, and let this surface beauty, so important to traditional landscape design, guide our understanding. We select plants for their form contrasted with carefully selected other plants to produce great gardens. However, in the totality of the greater eco-system this traditional surface beauty is secondary, and a new definition of diversity and ability to provide habitat in a self-sustaining system becomes a new paradigm pf beauty.

Thus we are faced with a new definition of beauty, which is not supported by centuries of tradition and accepted landscape syntax. We look at the eastern American Cherry and are horrified that it supports the eastern tent caterpillar rather than being amazed at the bounty that this species provides to birds and other animals. We take our love of form outside our controlled gardens and apply it to our reading of a stretch of natural area without seeing the destruction potential. Tradition trumps the new definition, and we wonder at the passion of those who can “read” a natural landscape.

We are faced with a wicked inconvenience, about which I have written much; the end goal defines the problem.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Lawn in a Time of Drought

The mid Atlantic is suffering through a drought, again. My carbon foot print due to mowing is effectively reduced to zero with nothing to mow. I asked my colleague, Larry Hurley to compute some water figures in order to keep me from turning on sprinklers to water my assorted invasive and non native grasses, forbes and herbaceous perennials which constitute the pasture I fondly call a lawn.

One cubic foot of water contains 7.48 gallons of water. I got the above from the department of energy. One cubic foot of water is the same as 12 square feet of water 1 inch deep, just like mulch. 1/12 of 7.48 gallons is .6233 gallons per square foot, one inch deep.
5,000 square feet takes 3,117 gallons of water.
Watering an acre (43,560 square feet) lawn one inch week for 12 weeks takes 325,851 gallons.

I think I will wait for the rains of autumn. I am struggling with the enormity of this number; I have five acres of clover, wild garlic, violets, creeping charlie, Japanese stilt grass, garlic mustard, multi flora rose, dandelions, Bermuda grass, crab grass, plantains, two or three tall fescue clumps in between the more aggressive invasive species. All of which are currently dormant or dead. Did I mention the nut sedge which is dragging? The question is why would anyone put 27,154.25 gallons of water per acre on non native invasive species, which almost certainly will be back fully green and on the move right after the first hurricane?

Of course I freely admit that right now I seem to live in the middle of a dust bowl and that perhaps I should be trying to find native mid Atlantic grasses which could serve as turf. Now just when I need them the most to hold the soil and prevent erosion, must common invasive species are nowhere to be seen.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"A Menacing Discovery Of the Emerald Ash Borer in Moscow"

Below is my translation of a web site posting first mention over at the invasive species web log site. The web site for the original is at the end of this rough translation. I might note that the author makes a reference in item number 2, that the species is known to attack other plants besides Fraxinus. There is no citation; I just want to make sure it is noted.
I am fortunate to still be married to my wonderful Russian wife without whose help this translation would be in progress for several life times. She however has had her fill of invasive species for the evening. most of the night and probably the rest of the week.

The reasons behind the sudden wilting of ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior and F. pennsylvanica) in the Moscow region in the years 2002 to 2004 have been discovered.
Several years of severe winters eased the way for an infestation of ash bark beetles (Hylesinus). Simultaneously, in the trunks and large branches, many borer tunnels of the narrow-bodied insect were detected. Large larvae up to 32 mm in size and specific exit holes with apertures in a D-shaped form were noted. The exit holes for the adult were appreciably different from the exit holes of native ash borers such as (Agrilus viridis (L.) and A. coeruleus Rossi), and other borers which occssionally attack ashes in Mosocw such as, Trachypteris picta (Pall.), Anthaxia bicolor Fald.

The collected specimens of the insects were sent to A. V. Alekseev, a qualified expert, who certified that the insects were the species known as the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB)/(Narrow-Bodied Borer (JAIUZ): Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire (= A. feretriue Obenberger, A. marcopoli Obenberger).

Discovering this insect is important for ordinary citizens even though they may not think so at first; the following explains why.

1. The native region for the species EAB are the deciduous forests of the Korean peninsula, northeast China, Japan, Mongolia, Taiwan. The species also lives in the territory of Russia (in woods of Seaside and Khabarovsk edges).
2. Host plants with in the native region of EAB include, not only ashes (F. chinensis, F. japonica, F. lanuginosa, F. mandshurica, F. rhynchophylla,), but also some other species (Juglans mandshurica, Pterocarya rhoifolia, Ulmus davidiana, U. propinqua).
3. The density of larval infestation on trunks in the natural habitat of China, even as part of a complex eco-system complete with parasitic insects, quite often reaches 300 per square meter. The density is so great as to weaken completely, healthy trees.
4. EAB was discovered in North America in 2002 in the state of Michigan and soon spread to Ohio, Maryland, and Ontario, Canada. All wilting trees upon inspection revealed the insect. Upon identification, the insect was declared a quarantine species in both countries. However, it was too late to halt the spread, and the resulting destruction.
5. The degree to which the infestation and spread of the insect is known in the USA and Canada is now so great, and, already the first consequences of its activities so catastrophic, that North American experts are forced to speak about the beginning of the total destruction of ash trees in North America. (Hermes et al., 2003).
6. American and Canadian entomologists believe that the spread of EAB in the USA began with the importation of second grade wooden containers (pallets) which were usually used for packing materials for equipment presumably originating in China.
7. Up to the time of the described detection in Moscow, there is no evidence of infestation in Europe. On the basis of data demonstrating high harm to ash tree plantings which this insect causes in North America, it has been entered into List А1 of the List of Quarantine Organisms of the European and Mediterranean Organization on Protection of Plants (ЕОZR) as a dangerous species absent as of yet.
8. In Russia, EAB is not a quarantine species. It does not appear in the last national list of quarantine species approved in 2003. The quarantine service has no standing to examine vegetative/horticultural imports with a directive to look for EAB. In addition there are only a few entymologists who could identify the species. There is no licensing or regulation impeding the importation of live plant stock in regards to this insect.
9. The infestation of EAB in the Moscow region most likely began in the 1990’s from imports from North America. During this time, a number of firms brought wooden packing materials from abroad to Russia. Along side this general imporation was the importing of trees and shrub species to Moscow, along with ash trees from Canada. The majority of the trees were planted in/for the city, with the balance being sold for private use. It is entirely possible that the spread could be explained by the direct importation of wooden containers from China.

The mass expansion of the EAB population in Moscow will shortly give the same result as Dutch Elm Disease has had on our city trees. Most of our beautiful elm trees have succumbed and are gone. Meanwhile there are still ash trees which have not been infested, and while EAB has not spread beyond Moscow it should be unquestionably quarantined to limit the widespread infestation with all its consequences.

Dr. S.S.Izhevsky, Biological Sciences'

Friday, July 06, 2007

Invasive species research: Pennisetum setaceum

At the risk of jumping the gun, I would assume that this theory will turn out to be true for many of the invasive species of note. In traditional horticulture, this ability top live almost anywhere is marketable and desirous, and helps facilitate the spread of invasive species in the ornamental trade. The standard non-gardening property owner wants a plant that fits many conditions and locations with as little extra resources (work) as possible.

UH research reveals phenomenon in an invasive weed

News Release

Researchers at the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at UH Manoa reveal a unique and important biological phenomenon in invasive weeds in the July 4 issue of the Public Library of Science ONE (PLoS ONE), a highly rated journal series publishing high-impact research on a broad range of topics.

The UH team conducted research on fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum), which is highly invasive in Hawai’i and variably invasive in other parts of the world, and addressed whether genetic variation in the species allow it to adapt to new environments globally. Their work explored the correlation between neutral genetic variation in the grass, quantitative genetic variation and invasiveness of the plant worldwide and within its home range.

Samples of fountain grass taken from various parts of the world responded uniformly to a range of treatments in experiments. The genetic analysis showed that the species is genetically uniform throughout its range in Africa, Hawai'i and in its place of origin – Egypt, yet the grass is able to tolerate and thrive in a wide spectrum of environmental variation. This "plasticity" contributes significantly to the invasiveness of the species under certain conditions, particularly in disturbed environments, or geologically recent areas, such as Hawai'i.

"These findings are remarkable in that it is often assumed that genetic diversity underlies invasive success – invasive species are able to adapt to local conditions," said Ania Wieczorek, project leader and assistant specialist in the Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences. Fountain grass was found to show the opposite trend, with no genetic diversity and yet it is a highly successful invader in many environments. The species is pre-adapted to thrive under a broad range of ecological conditions.

"The results have important implications for management of fountain grass where it is invasive. The results also contribute significantly to our understanding of basic evolutionary processes that affect species in new environments," said Wieczorek.

Wieczorek's team is comprised of Johannes J. Le Roux, doctoral candidate, and Carol T. Tran, research support, in the Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences; and Dr. Mark G. Wright, assistant specialist in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.

This research was funded by a USDA-TSTAR grant.

More information on the project, which addresses a number of invasive species, is available at http://www.pacificlandgrants

Invasive species levity, I hope, I think, maybe

I spend much of my time thinking about invasive species. So much time that I regularly begin to assume that everyone is as aware of the challenge of invasive species as I am, or that everyone is at least reading from the same page. In other words, I have lost the initial shock of awareness of a problem which I cannot begin to understand and the ramifications of which send me into reactionary mode. With plants, this amounts to the “don’t tell me what to grow, sell, buy, or plant” position. I long since have overcome this stance, and so it is with a strange sense of intellectual pleasure that I tripped over…drum roll please….INVASIVE SOILS…..

From a posting entitled. “Down and Dirty With Invasive Non-Native Soil”, I read with a certain amount of incredulity: “Using tweezers his group identifies and separates soil by type. Non-native dirt is then transported out of the park to holding areas.” One problem with the Internet is an inherent problem of certifying the veracity of a posting. A re-reading produced a telling quote or a significant typographical error: “We're attempting to restore the creek bed to its state on August 24th, 1843, at 3PM. After exhaustive research using Google, aspects of the science of phrenology, and an inventory of shovel blades from across the north state, we've determined that date represents the optimal health of the soil" stated Frolinger.”

Without further commentary on the potential for a great practical joke with shades of resistance to concepts offered within the invasive species movement. I notice an underlying truth: That the life within the soil is vital to the life a-top the soil. And, because the life within is mostly microscopic, it is mostly over-looked. Some research may find that alien, exotic plant species are changing the biota matrix within natural areas, with the result that native north American plants no longer have their historic soil partners, and can no longer compete with new comers, the ever-ready-to-take-advantage invasive species.

Remembering that some stakeholders in the invasive species question seek to limit the introduction of invasive species to natural areas in the hope that we can sustain functioning eco-systems, we must at least consider basic gardening tasks, which include amending the soils with changes as basic as pH change, and perhaps, the reintroduction of mychorriza . Years of liming, for example, have radically altered farm land once forested. Abandoned now, new owners struggle to encourage reforesting may be facing eastern natives inclination for a lower pH that is no longer found.

Let me close with a nudge, reminding readers to be wary when reading facts unverified. Just because you read it, does not mean it is fact. I try to be philosophical in my posting, which is another way of saying, opinionated, and do not pretend to be a primary source of information, but raher opinion, but, also try to be sure of the origins of my factoids. I am constantly aware of incorrect data in my searches on the web, to wit: a posting on this site, Tuesday, October 10, 2006, “Fall flowers and garden myths; ragweed & goldenrod

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Gardening in July

July in Washington, brings hot, humid days and nights, interrupted by more rain than the soil and earth can absorb. The garden, untended may look a tad worn, but for those who water diligently, when needed, and stayed on top of the unwanted plant challenge, the view is one of color and satisfaction. Cool weather grasses, such as fescues and blue grass are happily going dormant, and causing anxiety or worse, a large water bill. Vegetables, planted with insufficient organic matter in sterile lifeless soils are showing signs of nutrient deficiency; their leaves are turning a paler shade of green. Fertilizing is in order for those who did not prepare the soils organically.

Occasional surprises lurk in the garden. My Russian wife and I are living a reprise of the situation comedy “Green Acres”. She would have Versailles with all life forms registered at the gate, and anything that moves without a visa, dispatched at once. I prefer to let most living organisms live, and simply step aside, or some time accidentally on. Last year, a local, four foot long black snake chose to sun itself against the front door causing much interpersonal discussion and angst. This year it was a small brown garden snake which she ordered dispatched. I demurred and tried to remove the snake from the front walk boxwood with as little as possible danger to me or to the snake. After suiting up, in a fashion reminiscent of Mr. Douglas, advised from the rear by a constant patter of instructions and comment which included death options for both snake and self, I reached for snake, and came up with a small piece of a tree limb. The snake, a beneficial resident of the garden happily slithered to wherever snakes go when suddenly summoned or annoyed. All my efforts to explain the benefits of having snakes in the garden fell on deaf ears, but the snake yet lives to feed upon small critters , including, hopefully the rabbits which eat my plants.

Earlier in the month, my wife’s adventure in taming nature expanded bravely to removing anything green that was climbing up trees and fence posts. Oblivious to my warnings about leaves of three let it be, she proudly showed me here next victim. Fortunately, she enjoyed my remedy of a ten minute washing of arms in soapy water followed by a very long bubble bath, and escaped, thereby, this time the experience of poison ivy’s revenge.

Poison ivy is a naive (native) plant which makes my task extremely difficult when I try to explain the virtues of going native. Now, added to the problem of identification, for poison ivy has many leaf forms which can be deceiving, I read about research being done at the National Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville that, because of carbon dioxide increase in the air, the chemical, which causes the rash, is increasing in strength and will cause even more intense reactions to exposure in the future. I use triclopyr carefully painted onto the stem for about six inches near the soil line to rid my garden of this nuisance, all the while recalling that I once saw a variegated poison ivy plant in New England. I have never figured out how exactly to market this native plant.

I also note that, at my wife’s insistence, I have begun to remove the clover, which I so carefully encouraged by benign neglect. Having agreed to a small portion of mono cultural gardening in front of the house, I began last year to inorganically remove creeping charlie, wild violets, dandelion, which I love, and anything else not closely resembling a grass. My instructions from the porch are to limit diversity and go for uniformity. As you can see from the picture, I managed to convince her that watering the lawn was, for me, unacceptable; I have faith that the rains will come again. Naturally, the removal of the beloved, stays green all summer clover, has left me with a Maryland dust barrens, which turns green for a few minutes after each shower or deluge.

If you are planning for whatever reason to have a coffee table lawn, now is the time to assess the problem and to begin moving towards a plan of action. I started early, but you still have time. August is the time to remove broadleaf plants; September is for restoration aeration, and seeding, and first feeding. Do not forget to do a soil test. Know what you need to add, and add only what you need.

I must note that my wife decided for us to replace my annual flower beds with a vegetable garden. Our house is almost 1500 feet from the road, and invisible to the great opinionated public, so given it meant less work for me, I went along with the plan. I have to report, that my apartment dwelling, never-has-gardened wife is already harvesting cucumbers by the bucket load, as she prepares to make Russian dill pickles. Inconsistently as it may seem, she ordered me to not spray, for while she will attack any thing walking or flying not registered with her sense of place, the vegetables were to be organic. So we planted fennel to encourage parasitic wasps to attack the tomato horn worms, a tactic which seems to be working thus far. Too early for the peppers, but the basil is producing pesto for dinner.

The ground hogs have retreated, as we filled their burrows with lava rock, and the rats on stilts have chosen to eat in the neighboring farmer’s corn field and have not yet become a problem. Maybe the fish emulsion feeding around the house has disinclined their munching on our dinner. The container plantings look great and do not need weeding, so perhaps this is the new plan for gardening in years to come: flowers in pots, vegetables in the among the foundation plantings.

So what should you be doing? Water when needed. Use soaker hoses whenever you can. If lawns are to be your new hobby, begin assessing and planning because you will be staring in a few weeks. Cut off spend or old flowers from container, especially geraniums, and if you have a few perennials, make use of cut flowers, many perennials will then re-bloom. And most of all enjoy being outdoors, and look for the occasional surprise.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Invasive Species follow up: Basket Grass Removal in Beltsville

The International Finance Corporation, a branch of the World Bank Group had an employee volunteer retreat in June. As part of invasive species out-reach efforts on the part of Dr. Marc Imlay, and the volunteer efforts at the Little Paint Branch Park in Beltsville, Maryland, a model of Early Detection & Rapid Response was undertaken.

In November, 2006, I posted an essay about Oplismenus hirtellus subsp undulatifolius, and had a chance top stop by and see the work of removal underway. Dr. Imlay had almost cleared the small park completely of the regular cast of bad actors (English ivy, stilt grass, and garlic mustard), when he uncovered this new invader. Because it is limited in its scope of infestation, some would say that the cry of invasive is premature. This “where is the science”: school of thinking asks us to wait until there is overwhelming evidence of destruction and harm, before listing and labeling a species as invasive. The result of such a position is that when at last the evidence is in, the resources no longer are adequate enough to remove or control. So Dr. Marc Imlay is a leading exponent of remove it when it can be easily done, and let others argue about labels.

For me, what he and the volunteers are doing looks remarkably similar to what I will be doing after I write this posting: weeding. Traditional gardeners already know that it is a time and resource disaster to let the weeds reach a point of obvious concern. It is rather too late then to recapture the garden without a considerable effort. Far easier to remove as soon as noted, and be done with it.

National Agricultural Research Center; Invasive Species, Climate Change & Poison Ivy

The work of the people and programs of the Beltsville, Henry A. Wallace National Agricultural Research Center touches everything from food safety to the changing environment. For those interested in the world of invasive species and the intersection of native challenges and exotic problems, the research, which is threatened by the chronic under-funding for USDA/ARS Beltsville over more than a decade, is an invaluable tool in the struggle to create a policy of action.

The land mangers and keepers of natural areas wage constant war on exotic weeds, which they have labeled invasive species. The general property owning or using public battles aggressive plants, insects and diseases which threaten personal health or security, as well as traditional notions of beauty and order. Explaining that the native poison ivy, (Toxidendron radicans), is not invasive in the mid Atlantic is a semantic dialogue which, for too many, is a squabble over distinctions not readily understood. [pictures from my garden]

Because invasive species issues are connected to issues of environmental and climate change, the wicked inconvenience is that solutions which are single objective defined such as the prohibition of sale of non natives, leads to confusion and adamant opposition. The general public wants as its priority a safe, secure, serene, and, syntactically easy to understand landscape; the managers and wardens of natural areas seek a working, self-sustaining eco-system.

The cry for native only, begs the question, native to when and where; the change in climate may overwhelm the answer. And so the work of Dr. Zizka, and those committed to the exploration of our changing world is of national importance. If a native plant, which by definition is a constituent part of a greater whole and therefore deserves and needs to be allowed to live, is at the same time growing in its ability to cause personal harm, we face a disconcerting controversy which muddies the over all invasive species conversation.

My conversations surrounding invasive species inevitably raise the question of plant adaptability and the question of carbon dioxide concentration change on the biota of a eco-system. Thus, when presenting invasive species issues to the general public, I am challenged to juggle harm to natural areas, change in plant diversity, climate change and its impact on the presumption of native, and the traditional definition of a weed. Because each stakeholder subliminally understands the complexity of invasive species issues, they result inevitably to using their goals to define for themselves what an invasive species are. Hence, for the traditional majority gardener, poison ivy is an invasive species, and English Ivy an ornamental workhorse. For the managers of natural areas, the reverse, of course, is true.

And so the work of BARC, continues to provide information necessary to the development of strategies to protect ourselves in the here-and-now and in the not-so-distant future. In order to grasp the hierarchies of complexities generated by the small/quick changes we see in our gardens and properties and, to which we feel we can react with some confidence, and the big/slow changes, which happen beyond our life horizon, we are dependent to some extent on the work performed at the national agricultural laboratory.
How will the public react to the following information, which they will experience directly and painfully when they work or play outdoors?

Although the data on poison ivy come from controlled studies, they suggest the vexing plant is more ubiquitous than ever. And the more-potent oil produced by the plants may result in itchier rashes. "If it's producing a more virulent form of the oil, then even a small or more casual contact will result in a rash," says Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, Md.
The latest research, led by Dr. Ziska, studied poison ivy plants in Maryland under different levels of carbon-dioxide exposure. One group of plants was exposed to about 300 parts per million of carbon dioxide -- about the same level found in the atmosphere in the 1950s. Another group was exposed to 400 parts per million of CO2 -- about the same level in the atmosphere today.
After about eight months, leaf size, stem length and weight and oil content of the plants raised at current carbon-dioxide levels were, on average, 50% to 75% higher than the plants under the 1950s conditions, according to the study, expected to be published this year in the journal Weed Science. Not only did the higher CO2 level double the growth rate, but it made for hardier plants that recovered more quickly from the ravages of grazing animals.
[Climate Changes Are Making; Poison Ivy More Potent; June 26, 2007; Page D1]