What are invasive species?
Invasive species can be any organism, including plants, animals, and microbes, that is not native to the place where it is living and has a negative effect on the area that it has begun living in. That effect can be on other plants or animals in the area, on people, or on the economic health of the community. Organisms that live in a healthy native habitat, without causing any damage to the environment or economy of a location, can be considered invasive if they move or are brought into a different habitat where they cause problems.
Invasive species can be found in almost all environments, including marine, forests, freshwater, and others. Invasive species don't all look like the invader pictured above, either. Some are actually quite cute and
How do species get to new places?
Invasive species can be moved into new places by a number of different ways- some intentional, and some not. species can be spread unknowingly in the holds of cargo ships, in materials brought from one area of the country or world to another area, or on vehicles that move through different locations. Untreated wood products can move insects, fungi, or viruses to new areas. Other kinds of organisms can spread through the sale of certain plants as ornamental plantings which then begin to enter the native environment and overtake local plants. Still other sources of invasive species come from the pet trade, where animals from exotic places are often considered desirable a pets-until they are released into the ecosystem, where they begin to harm other native species.
What happens when invasive species get into new places?
The amount of impact a specific "invader" will have on an ecosystem depends on the rate that it expands into the ecosystem and the amount of damage it causes. One of the most often covered stories of destruction by invasive species follows the damage caused by Burmese pythons, which have become part of the Everglades in Florida; even the USGS has released a report detailing the destruction they can cause. These snakes, once pets and released into the wild through a number of different events, have become a major new predator in the environment, causing havoc with native birds, mammals, and even other snakes. Efforts are underway to control their spread, but scientists feel that there are already breeding populations in the Everglades, and that eradicating them will be extremely difficult, if not impossible.
But damaged caused by invasives does not always have to be quite as dramatic as 20 foot snakes invading a major natural area. Invasive species may take years to demonstrate the effect they are having on a place- and by the time they are found, it may be too late to remove them. In an article published in US News and World Report, Cornell University reported a study that found the "the US spends almost $120 billion a year" trying to control tens of thousands of invasive species.
What Can I Do to Help Control Invasive Species?
There are a number of things everyone can do to help control the spread of unwanted species. Here are five tips:
- Never release any pet or captive-bred animal into the native area, including turtles, fish, insects, reptiles, birds or mammals.
- Learn more about which species of plants and animals are on your state's list of invasive species. Remember- some organisms are invasive in one area, but not in others, so it's important to know your native space. Visit Mass.gov to learn more about Massachusetts' invasives and management practices that can help stop them.
- Be aware of your location. Some invasives, such as the emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle, and others, require everyone's vigilance to prevent. These insects can infest woodlands quickly, with little notice until the damage is done. By being aware of the forest health in your local area, you can report a problem before it gets bigger. Visit MassWoods Outsmart Invasives program for information on how you can be part of the invasives solution with your smartphone.
- Don't move firewood from outside of your local area. Untreated firewood can carry insects and diseases that can spread to living trees while it is stacked outdoors.
- Don't purchase invasives. If a particular animal or plant is banned in your region or state, there is likely a good reason for it's removal. Seeking other routes to obtaining these plants or animals, no matter how attractive they may be, is illegal and also becomes part of the larger invasive species problem.
With the world becoming smaller through the ability of people to move around the globe quickly and easily, it's unlikely that invasive species will ever stop completely. However, by being vigilant about the ways we can each stop the spread of outside organisms in the natural world, we can each be part of the invasive species solution.