Saturday, September 29, 2007

Invasive Species Conundrum: A Wicked Inconvenience

“Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent (deeply involved, thus strongly motivated) and well informed just to be undecided about them.”-- Laurence J. Peter The wicked inconvenience of invasive species reaches its tendrils into equally complex issues such as global climate change. Some plants out compete resident species taking advantage of increases in CO2. My conversations with Dr. Lewis Ziska, USDA BARC, on invasiveness and climate change add to the list of information necessary to making an informed decision about invasive species. Invasive plants would seem to have at least one characteristic, defined as those species, which take advantage of increases in CO2, and, therefore, out perform other species.

A nasty by-product of this idea is that, perhaps, our attempts to forestall and reverse invasive species incursion damage to natural areas is most likely akin to sticking our finger into a levee which has already been breached. If native species are stressed by temperature change and at the same time do not process the increase in CO2 as efficiently as the exotic or alien, or native species; then the native-only solution is doomed. A secondary result will arise in that some natives will be able to take advantage of the increase in CO2 and begin to upset the natural current balance of the eco-system at hand. In theory, here on the east coast we could see native poison ivy begin to out compete and upset the balance in natural areas, and to add to the confusion or complications, begin to increase in its toxicity.
The researchers of The National Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville continue there work which helps us manage our world. From invasive species projects with kudzu to examinations of increased CO2 on the biota of our world, they continue there needed research From an article in (c) 2007 Cox Newspapers, Inc. - The Daily Reflector
Record Number: 2273923 , June 28th, 2007

“Not only did the elevated carbon dioxide boost poison ivy growth, but it also increased the most toxic form of urushiol, the plant chemical that causes the rash in humans, Mohan and her colleagues found.Meanwhile, scientists and naturalists already have seen an increase in vines throughout much of the world over the two decades, though so far there is no comprehensive documentation of that increase. Still, the anecdotal evidence suggests that increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have boosted growth of poison ivy and other vines.That suggestion is supported by another study led by Lewis H. Ziska at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, in which poison ivy was grown in a laboratory in Maryland in conditions simulating carbon dioxide levels of 50 years ago and those of today. Poison ivy in present-day conditions grew about 50 percent faster than plants grown in the atmospheric conditions of a half-century ago."Poison ivy loves CO2," Ziska said. Because deer are attracted to poison ivy, Ziska also looked at what happens when leaves were stripped from the plant. He found that they grow back faster when higher levels of CO2 are present.The new studies have significant implications for forests as well as people. Vines such as poison ivy can do extensive damage to forest trees, potentially altering the composition of forests in the long term.”

Thus, we fall into one possible path of action which states that introductions of successful plants are a necessary reaction and a needed component of our current environmental confusions and challenges; we need to encourage diversity by replacing those plants which cannot adapt with those showing adaptive promise. This is the “there is no bad plant” school of thought. It is off-set by the “do not let anything new into the system” school of thinking which operates on the idea that if we can just restrict “new” introductions and remove “old” introductions, we shall all be able to return to the golden age of a distant imagined era of benign self sustaining eco-systems. I some times refer to the former school as the “Manifest Destiny” and the latter as the “Return to ‘Leave it to Beaver”, a highly prized time of wonder and innocence.

Both lines of reasoning ignore a fundamental principle of a wicked problem as both try to force a linear solution plan on a complex system in an effort to simply the problem. I suspect that an underlying reason is that dealing with the complexities directly tend to leave many people paralyzed with the challenge of uncertainty. Better to do something than to sit and think doing nothing. But a collateral problem of the do something from either point of view is that neither side wants to work for a center, consensus series of unending ever changing solutions. We divide into two opposing camps; one wants to plant everything, one wants to restore everything. Neither is addressing the other’s linear solution.

Invasive Species – A Wicked Inconvenience
Invasive Species; Wicked Inconvenience: part two
Weeds: Defining Inconvenience, Wickedly
Invasive species: more inconveniences of a wicked nature
Inconvenient question: Invasive species

Friday, September 28, 2007

National Invasive Species Council Advisory Committee Meeting Oct 1 - 3, 2007

Having heard nothing but silence about topics you think the National Invasive Species Council should hear from its advisory committee (ISAC), I thought that I should take the opportunity to post the agenda for the meeting which starts Monday October 1st, here in Prince George’s County, Maryland, at the Los Alamos of Agricultural Research, the Henry A. Wallace national Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, usually referred to as BARC of which the National Arboretum in Washington DC is a part.

I again ask you to send me your topics and ideas. What should the National Government be focusing its resources and attention on in the matter of invasive species? Write me at or reply to this posting.

I note the earlier posting for those of you who have not kept up to what BARC really means ( and don’t forget your National Agricultural Library when you are making requests of the tooth fairy or godmother or congressional lobbyist:
Invasive Species Complexities: A Wicked Inconvenience
Invasive Species (Kudzu) Meets Fox News
National Agricultural Research Center; Invasive Species, Climate Change & Poison Ivy
BARC: Funding for Research Continues to Fall
BARC-National Agricultural Research Center Alliance NARAB
Homeland security; E. coli, and diminished funding & BARC

This 2007 fall meeting will include the following presentations. Do not doze off, the presentations are actually much more interesting than the titles and I promise to translate your ideas into federal inside-the-beltway speak at no charge:

IUCN Report on Improving Biosecurity at U.S. Ports of Entry - Jamie Reaser, ISAC

Climate Change & CO2: Opportunities and Challenges: Biofuels, Human Health & the Environment –Lewis Ziska, USDA BARC

Ballast Water Issue Update - Dean Wilkinson, DOC Policy Liaison

Effects of Climate Change on Aquatic Invasive Species and Implications for Management Research - Britta Bierwagen, USEPA

University of Georgia Bugwood Network - G. Keith Douce, University of Georgia

NRCS Plant Materials Centers for Restoration Materials – Tim Carlson, ISAC

APHIS Revisions to PPQ Regulation Q-37: Propagative Plant Material - John Randall and Faith Campbell. The Nature Conservancy

Invasive Plant Atlas of New England (IPANE) Project - Les Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut

BIOCONTROL OF CANADA THISTLE: A bacteria that weakens or kills Canada thistle, and a mite that feeds on it – John Lydon, BARC

REMOTE SENSING TO DETECT LEAFY SPURGE: Remote sensing methods can detect the extent of infestation of leafy spurge over a large area, thus identifying where control methods are needed. Potentially, this could be modified and extended to other invasives. - Ray Hunt, BARC

NATIONAL ANIMAL PARASITE COLLECTION - Eric Hoberg, Animal Parasitic Diseases Lab, BARC


LOOKING FOR BIOCONTROL AGENTS FOR PROBLEM PLANTS AND INSECTS - Various Scientists, SEL and Invasive Insect Behavior and Biocontrol Lab (IIBBL), BARC


INVASIVE FUNGI – KARNAL BUNT, SOYBEAN RUST, et al. - Systematic Mycology and Microbiology Lab


Monday, September 24, 2007

Invasive Species Work Depends upon Systematics

The information about a new salamander hybrid got me thinking about the many hybrids, cultivars and varieties that make up the world of ornamental horticulture. The salamander presents a definition opportunity; is the off spring between a native and an exotic (alien) an invasive (or a citizen by right of birth)? Is it exotic simply because it was not here prior to the coming of television or Columbus? Is a new species or hybrid which results from the crossing of two natives automatically (given citizenship) a native?
There is the interesting possibility of a native crossing with an exotic, neither parent being invasive, and creating invasive off-spring.

There seems to be some unanimity among those with whom I posed the question: Is the salamander invasive by definition? “…if a species, not native to an eco-system, is breeding with a native species, especially an endangered one, and is causing harm, it fits the classical definition of an invasive species. If the hybrid of these two species makes it harder to differentiate the endangered individuals from others and/or more readily interbreeds with endangered populations, it is interfering with endangered species protection. It too would also fit the definition of an invasive species. And of course, if it causes economic or aesthetic harm to a natural area, it would be an invasive species?

All of this brings us to the problem and challenge of identification and systematics. I am made aware of a controversy surrounding the red wolf, for example. This is an endangered species. Much work is done to protect it and prevent the inter-breeding with coyotes. The problem seems to be that some believe it is already a cross between the grey wolf and coyotes. This need to be able to systematically identify and classify is a classic case of fundamental infrastructure science.

And supporting this and at the blurry edges of taxonomic collections are libraries such as the National Agricultural Library. When it comes to Early Defection and Rapid Response, one first has to know at what one is looking. Unfortunately, we seem to think that we shall find this information on the Internet, perhaps even Wikipedia, so we do not demand support for the taxonomic resources of the library or for systematics in general. Even though there is work underway to digitize, it will ultimately in my life time be hard to digitize a nematode cyst which can be brought to life after almost fifty years of careful conservation. And given the lack of resources, what will we do when our current technology can not “read” the copies of the books of taxonomy and plant identification which are in the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland. And this assumes that our public leaders will even think about actually funding the library's needs. As I noted in the previous post, the library can no longer afford to subscribe to foreign scientific journals let alone add unique rare tomes on plant identification.

The book collections needed for identification and verification of plant species cover over two hundred and fifty years of publication, and, their preservation is also an issue. The date range of taxonomic literature needed for work in systematic & taxonomic botany, to verify and identify species, is from 1753 to present. 1753 is the publication date of Species Plantarum by Linnaeus, the start date for all scientific plant names.

NAL has a 1957 replica edition of the first edition of Species Plantarum, published in 1753 as well as an original of the 3rd, 1764, in addition to the rest of its “Linnaean collection”. And having walked through a very small part of the collection, the idea that we as a country would simply let this all fade away, is appalling. Our idea that some one else has the basic information somewhere stops, when one understands that NAL is the someone else, somewhere. Our information about agricultural ultimately is at NAL and NAL needs you to write your representatives and tell them to start demanding the proper funding of our National Library. And do not get me started on the small fact that when it rains, the windows leak. But, then our spending priorities seem to lie somewhere around the idea that the information age is based on some magical acquisition of knowledge without cost.

To truly do eradication and control of invasive species, we first need to know with what we are dealing; we need to classify, identify and verify, and, while we write about the invasive and their destructiveness, a quiet destruction of inadequate funding is slowly undermining our first line tool, our national library of Agriculture. If you do not know what it is, you cannot possibly know how to deal with it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Invasive Species Complexities: A Wicked Inconvenience

As I try to connect the various components and discussion that comprise the world of invasive species, I find myself more and more investigating areas of knowledge seemingly far removed from the world of traditional ornamental gardening. From my postings entitled: National Agricultural Research Center; Invasive Species, Climate Change & Poison Ivy and Invasive species, BARC, Kudzu and Bio-fuel to those on wicked problems: Invasive Species; Wicked Inconvenience: part two and Inconvenient question: Invasive species.

Now after a casual morning of web surfing I find: Recent developments in the science and management of invasive alien plants: connecting the dots of research
knowledge, and linking disciplinary boxes: ”Many new or less well-known aspects of plant invasions were discussed. For example: (i) The complexity of real-life systems was highlighted using quantitative food-web models. These show that changes in species composition caused by plant invasions could have serious consequences for higher trophic levels, and may greatly affect organisms at levels that have no direct connection with the invasive plant species in question. (ii) Evidence was presented of what was dubbed ‘invasional meltdown’, meaning synergistic interactions between invasive species that promote further invasions and exacerbate their detrimental effects. (iii) Particularly alarming was the revelation that various elements of global change (global warming, elevated atmospheric CO2, nitrogen deposition, habitat fragmentation) are already interacting to worsen the impacts of plant invasions. Some experimental results suggest that elevated CO2 levels have already had a marked effect on traits of some key invasive species in North America: increased biomass production, expanded leaf area and spininess, and enhanced pollen loads.1 All of these traits, alone or in combination, affect how these plants influence native species, and the invasibility of the ecosystems they occupy.”

The intertwined nature of two co-equal, co-evolving, and related problems is a key defining feature of a classic wicked problem. My efforts, which try to bring the public’s attention to inadequate and falling funding for the National Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, BARC: Funding for Research Continues to Fall, and to the companion agency, the National Agricultural Library, also come to mind, when I read this report on line. Trying to cobble together a stake-holder’s group on a no-budget, all volunteer basis to somehow prod our political leaders into funding and supporting work in not only invasive species, but feathers to plastic work, agricultural genetics, and remote sensing to name a few continues to be a challenge.

Given what I know about the National Library’s funding crisis, it is possible that someday in the near future, work like Dr. Ziska’s will possibly be funded by a foreign government grant, and the resulting paper will be unavailable to the congressionally mandated library, because they no longer have the budget to buy foreign scientific journals. The library needs around 3.8 million dollars to get back into the foreign journal subscription process, but I am having trouble getting a group of stake-holders interested in the problem. The National Library as of now can no longer afford foreign scientific journals.

And if this seems rather straight forward, just try to get funding to upgrade building that are over 70 years old. Vital to the study of invasive species is the science of systematics and the collections in some cases of which are over a century old. You cannot begin to speak of a species, if you cannot identify it. We should be working to create a national systematic building and center to house our endangered collections; instead we reduce their funding and hope that someone somewhere will have the presence of mind to take care of them even as universities try to unload them.

All of this is related to the difficulty of getting funding for invasive species and climate change. Even though there is a National Invasive Species Council, without the funding to actually encourage science and action, the power is limited to attempting to be a facilitator of communication of ideas and concept for federal agency competition for limited funds.

In some ways, this, then, is the challenge of invasive species, the wicked inconvenience; that each time I think I have a understanding of the stakeholders and their particular desired result, I find that any ability to focus is diffused and that since in the end all of us are stake-holders, I have no stake-holders to lobby and influence the funding process. The ever changing nature of knowledge and science means the end game remains in motion and long term, distinctly at odds with our craving for short term solutions that take place within a financial reporting cycle of a year or less. Attempting to get funding for projects that last a generation run counter to our present desire for instant success.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Invasive Languages: Invasive Species?

“Every fortnight, another language dies; some 40 per cent of the world's languages are thought to be at risk. Now a new study has identified those that are most endangered. Claire Soares reports.”[1] As I think about invasive species and their effect upon endangered species, I usually think of the terms as two sides of the same issue; reverse and obverse. Having a life long passion for Latin and Indo–European philology and historical linguistics, I am as concerned about the decline in diversity of languages as I am with the impact of the decline of biological diversity.

The result is a rather odd epiphany that suggests to me that some languages such as the one I am using right now, are invasive species; that is, some languages, such as English are linguistic species which are by their very success and spread and tendency to displace native languages, invasive. As with any good biological invasive species, linguistic invasive species are extremely successful in their adaptation, and their displacement and potential for being a major factor in the eventual extinction of a native species, linguistic or biological.

“How do researchers know when a language is dying? Does "endangered" mean "doomed?" SIL is concerned for languages, the people who speak them, and the cultures they express. Many factors contribute to a language becoming endangered. SIL makes concerted efforts to survey languages, evaluate their vitality, facilitate language development, and where possible, prevent loss of language and culture. The danger of languages dying out is real, but SIL believes every language and culture is part of the mosaic of humanity.”[2] To me, this is the language of sustainable environmental systems; the same genera of questions strugglijng with the same possible outcomes.

“In their respective fields, these various communities of researchers and activists have called attention to the effects of rapidly occurring global processes of socioeconomic and ecological change on the very objects of their concerns: human cultural and linguistic groups and their traditional knowledge; biological species; and the world's environments. An ever growing body of literature on endangered languages, vanishing cultures, and biodiversity loss has been accumulating in recent years, attesting to the perceived gravity and urgency of such issues. Underlying this concern is a common interest in the future of humanity and the earth's ecosystems. However, communication among all of these research and advocacy communities, while highly desirable and indeed necessary in this context, has been slow in developing.”[3]

Any thoughts?

[1] © 2007 Independent News and Media Limited
[2] Copyright © 2007 SIL International


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Phytophthora ramorum host species disappear; Invasive agents suspected but not found

I wonder, did I scoop Jenn, over at Invasive Species Weblog?

Pensacola News Journal, September 10, 2007
200 camelia plants are missing

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson today
is seeking the public's help in locating more than 200 camellia plants.

The plants are missing from Esposito's Garden Nursery Inc., in Tallahassee, where the plants were being held under quarantine. The plants were infected with or exposed to Phytophthora ramorum, or sudden oak death, a serious fungal disease that may be deadly to certain oaks and other hardwoods, and also adversely affects other plants including camellias, azaleas and viburnums.

Unlawful movement of quarantined plants is a violation of Section 581.101 of the Florida Statutes.

The plants were placed under quarantine after a January survey at Esposito's determined that camellias were showing symptoms of sudden oak death. Samples were submitted to the Department's Gainesville laboratory and were confirmed positive for sudden oak death. At that time, approximately 964 host plants were identified for destruction or quarantine for a minimum of 90 days.

In February, 406 of these plants, including all the known positives, were destroyed and the remaining 558 host plants, that at the time showed no signs of disease, were allowed to be moved to Esposito's wholesale nursery located in Havana, Florida, for the remainder of the quarantine period.

In March, during a subsequent survey at the Havana facility, some of the plants being held in quarantine showed signs of sudden oak death. Samples were analyzed and found to be positive for sudden oak death.

On April 5, the Department returned to conduct destruction of the remaining 558 plants and found that approximately 206 of the quarantined plants were missing.

On April 10, the Department requested an explanation of the whereabouts of the missing plants and gave the owner until April 12 to respond.

On April 11, the owner of Esposito's Garden Center reported to the Gadsden County Sheriff's Office in Quincy, Florida, that the quarantined plants had been stolen around March 30. Esposito's owner had not contacted the Department to report the missing quarantined plants which is a requirement of Section 581.101, F.S., which addresses the unlawful movement of quarantined plant material. A state and federal investigation into the matter was initiated.

In August, a report by state and federal agriculture officials was received and, as a result of the investigation, a notice of violation has been issued by the state to Esposito's Nursery Inc., along with an administrative complaint and $5,000 fine.

Sudden oak death presents a real and ongoing threat to Florida's agricultural industry, environment and economy. Movement of nursery stock is a recognized channel for the spread of sudden oak death from established areas to new locations, creating a situation of great concern for the state. Sudden oak death was first detected in Esposito's Garden Center and five other nurseries in North Florida in 2004 when infected plant material from California was identified by Department nursery plant inspectors. All known infections were eradicated.

Esposito's Garden Center records do not provide information on where the missing plants were distributed. If they were stolen as they have indicated, chances of locating the plants are extremely low.

The Department, along with the USDA, is drawing on all resources to prevent the establishment of sudden oak death in Florida, and therefore locating these missing plants is a priority. The camellia plants were removed from the Havana facility in late March or early April. The camellia plants were in three-gallon pots. Varieties included hiemalis, hybrids, japonica, sasanqua, and vernalis.

If anyone has information about these missing plants, please contact the Gadsden County Sheriff's Office or the Department's Division of Plant Industry helpline at 1-888-397-1517.

The public can also play a vital role in identifying suspected sudden oak death infestations by being on the lookout for sudden oak death symptoms in their yards or other natural areas of the state.

For more information on sudden oak death, visit or call

Monday, September 10, 2007

Napoleon (Bush) meets Spain (Iraq)

“Spain…lit and carried the torch of national liberation, fighting the usurper as the very personification of evil, apostasy, and atheism. Napoleon, in his own way a child of the Enlightenment, had calculated with measurable, empirically verifiable quantities. A rising which derived its impetus from a combination of national, religious, and other spiritual forces represented an imponderable for which he had made no allowance and which therefore had proved a very unpleasant surprise.”

Am I alone at seeing a parallel; a repetition of history? Please note that I am not comparing the President to Napoleon save for the rationalization approach to policy, not am I comparing Spain to Iraq but for the intensity of the rebellion; it is the conflict between emotion and rationalism to which I draw your attention

From the book, A History of Prussia, by H. W. Koch, Dorset Press New York, 1978, a quote on page 188.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Invasive Species, Barberry & Landscape Design

Invasive species issues are entangled by traditional ornamental landscape needs and wants. The wicked inconvenience produced by the complexities of individual stakeholders’ ultimate goals provides a salient ripe with emotional, and, therefore, contentious debate. On the one hand, traditional gardeners reach for the barberry solution because it works in the short or near term horizon of accepted landscape practices. In a recent web posting at “Students of Success: Japanese Barberry… A Multi-Use Plant” we find a well written essay on the wonderful reasons to plant Berberis. (see also: Japanese barberry: Invasive Species?)

Bowing to current trends and information, the writer does note the following information in passing: “Barberries are typically found in locations of partial sunlight such as a woodland’s edge. Barberries can survive well under the shade of an oak tree canopy. It is also found along roadsides, fences, old fields, and open woods. These plants can and do escape and are invasive.”

Unintentionally, I am sure, the author lists all the obvious warning signals, but couches the information in its positive traditional mantle. “The bright-red fruits mature in
mid-summer on the bush and remain into autumn and the winter. The berries are small and found singly or in clusters. We sell several cultivars of this species as ornamentals. These plants have good deer resistance. Small thorns act as an invisible barrier to deer. Once they encounter this plant, they nearly have to starve to be found eating them.” More rationally positive information is included: “Japanese barberry was introduced from Japan. It is commonly planted for ornamental value (its scarlet fruit and autumnal foliage make it an attractive hedge), as well as for wildlife and erosion control. It easily naturalizes because its fruit is often eaten by birds, which subsequently disperse the seeds. The plant reproduces by seed and creeping roots. Wildlife is known to eat the seeds and distribute barberries. Branches can root freely when they touch the ground or get covered by leaves, which allow single plants to become quite large.”

I draw your attention to the important traits for the gardener which include deer resistance an important part of the decision making process when designing the garden. Nowhere mentioned is the tendency of the species to use these enumerated traits in natural setting to create mono-cultures or biological deserts as this is beyond the decision horizon of most gardeners. A longer term horizon of effect on the greater local ecology is simply not part of current landscaping paradigms.

To the careful reader, a mix message is embedded, and the weight leans towards selecting this impervious-to-everything, nearly fool-proof species as a great garden choice. The invasive species part of the message is hidden and the consumer plants more. And planting this invasive species allows the gardener to feel good about being environmentally wise, for the plant “feeds” birds, and as it hosts no significant-to-horticulture, known pests other than rust, which is not mentioned, allowing the gardener to feel good about not applying chemicals: a perfect garden plant!

Because we define the problem based upon our desired result, and because the traditional gardener is using a short term result paradigm, the idea that possibly this great plant should be controlled, eradicated, and weeded out becomes a point of deep contention. What are trying to accomplish with our landscapes? What is the proper relationship between our personal gardens and landscapes and the local environment? How will we consider the role of beauty in the issues of invasive species?