Posts about invasive species

Citizen Science: Use Your Smart Phone to Help Scientists

10 Ways You Can Use Your Smartphone to Advance Science by Matt Soniak

Scientists have started to use the abilities and prevalence of smartphones to their advantage, creating apps specifically for their studies and crowdsourcing observation and data collection. When almost everyone has an Internet connection, a camera, and a GPS unit right in their phone, almost anyone can gather, organize, and submit data to help move a study along.

The Indicator Bats Program (iBats), a joint project of the Zoological Society of London’s Institute of Zoology and The Bat Conservation Trust, got its start with a couple of researchers working in Transylvania (of course) in 2006. The idea of the project is to identify and monitor bat populations around the world by the ultrasonic echo-location calls they use to navigate and find prey.

The goal of Project NOAH (Networked Organisms and Habitats) is pretty ambitious: “build the go-to platform for documenting all the world’s organisms.” Their app has two modes. “Spottings” lets you take photos of plants and animals you see, categorize and describe them and then submit the data for viewing on NOAH’s website and use by researchers for population and distribution studies.

Invasive plants and animals can crowd out natives, compete with them for food sources and alter the fire ecology of an ecosystem, disrupting its natural balance. Researchers and programmers from UCLA, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and the University of Georgia have teamed up to create the What’s Invasive citizen science program and smartphone app. Volunteers can use the app to look up lists of the top invasive species in their area, created by National Park Service rangers and biologists. If they spot a plant or animal from the list, they submit a geo-tagged observation, with optional picture and text notes, so that scientists can locate, identify, study try to remove the species.

Great stuff.

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Invasive Species: Camels

Wild camels overrun resources in Outback

It’s being described as a plague. More than 1 million wild camels are wreaking havoc in huge parts of Australia, eating the vegetation, destroying property, fouling and consuming water sources, desecrating indigenous sites and causing road accidents.

About 170 years after being introduced to the continent as a pack animal to open its arid interior, Australia’s feral camel population is the biggest in the world. The camels double their numbers every nine years and continually expand their domain.

There are proposals to build a halal abattoir in Australia and send packaged camel meat to Muslim countries. Another proposal is to turn camel meat into pet food. Although most people who have tried the meat pronounce it as tasty, similar to beef but leaner, attempts to get the Aussies to add camel to their precious “barbie” have gone nowhere.

“Australians are pretty conservative in their choice of meat,” Mr. Edwards said. “Kangaroo meat hasn’t penetrated the market; camel meat is in the same basket.” Everyone agrees that the solution should be as humane as possible.

“In their natural habitat they are wonderful,” Mr. Burrows said. “But they don’t belong here and they are causing great damage. We want to reduce their number, not eradicate them.”

The problems caused by invasive species are often much less obvious (and the species much smaller) but invasive species are a serious problem worldwide.

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Cactus Eating Bull Saving Kenyan Drylands

Cactus eating bull saves Kenyan drylands

Cows are playing an important role in land restoration in Baringo by eating up the invasive prickly pear cactus a nasty invasive plant that is destroying the drylands. It’s not obvious at all for cows to eat this thorny cactus, but Murry Roberts and his wife Elizabeth Meyerhoff told me about an amazing project that their organization, RAE (Rehabilitation of Arid Environments) has been working on. A few years ago they discovered that a local farmer had a bull that not only ate the nasty exotic thorny ugly, plant, but also taught other cows to go for it too.

During the drought of 1999 – 2000 grassy fields were reduced to bare earth and cows had nothing left to eat were dying of starvation leading to widespread famine. The story goes that one farmer persuaded his bull to eat the leaves after he had burned off the thorns. Opuntia are 80% water and if one can get past the thorns, the plant is quite nutritious . The other starving cows watched the bull and then followed suit thus saving the herd and the farmer who has never looked back. The thorns are burnt off using wood from another nasty invasive species, Prosopis juliflora – making this an eco-friendly project all round.

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2 Mysterious Species in the UK

Plane Bug - UK

Mystery insect found in Museum garden

This mystery bug has not been seen in the UK before and has made the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Garden its home. The tiny bug is baffling insect experts at the Museum who are still trying to identify the mystery newcomer. The almond-shaped bug is red and black and about the size of a grain of rice

Experts checked the new bug with those in the Museum’s national insect collection of more than 28 million specimens. Amazingly, there is no exact match.

The bug closely resembles the fairly rare species Arocatus roeselii, which is usually found in central Europe. However, the roeselii bugs are brighter red than this new bug and they are usually associated with alder trees rather than plane trees.

However, the National Museum in Prague discovered an exact match to the mystery bug in their collections – an insect that was found in Nice and is classified as Arocatus roeselii. ‘There are two possible explanations,’ explains Barclay. ‘That the bug is roeselii and by switching to feed on the plane trees it could suddenly become more abundant, successful and invasive. The other possibility is that the insect in our grounds may not be roeselii at all.’

The Museum is working with international colleagues to analyse the bug’s body shape, form and DNA to see whether it is a newly discovered species or if it is in fact Arocatus roeselii.

Here is a green bug from my trip to Clifton Gorge Nature Preserve that is probably easier to identify. Or how about this insect from the Forest Glen Preserve, Illinois. Or how about this one at Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey, in Kentucky.

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Kudzu Biofuel Potential

Kudzu Gets Kudos as a Potential Biofuel

The kudzu vine, also known as “the plant that ate the South,” was brought from eastern Asia in 1876 and can grow more than 6.5 feet a week. Its starchy roots plunge deep into the soil, and just a fragment of the plant remaining in the ground is enough to allow it to come back next season.

“Kudzu is just a large amount of carbohydrate sitting below ground waiting for anyone to come along and dig it up,” Sage said. “The question is, is it worthwhile to dig it up?”

The roots were by far the largest source of carbohydrate in the plant: up to 68 percent carbohydrate by dry weight, compared to a few percent in leaves and vines.

The researchers estimate that kudzu could produce 2.2 to 5.3 tons of carbohydrate per acre in much of the South, or about 270 gallons per acre of ethanol, which is comparable to the yield for corn of 210 to 320 gallons per acre. They recently published their findings in Biomass and Bioenergy.

Crucial to making the plan work would be figuring out whether kudzu could be economically harvested, especially the roots, which can be thick and grow more than six feet deep. To balance this expense, Sage said, the plant requires zero planting, fertilizer or irrigation costs.

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Ballast-free Ships

ballast-free ship’ could cut costs while blocking aquatic invaders

University of Michigan researchers are investigating a radical new design for cargo ships that would eliminate ballast tanks, the water-filled compartments that enable non-native creatures to sneak into the Great Lakes from overseas. At least 185 non-native aquatic species have been identified in the Great Lakes, and ballast water is blamed for the introduction of most—including the notorious zebra and quagga mussels and two species of gobies.

This week, the U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. will implement new rules designed to reduce Great Lakes invaders. Ships will be required to flush ballast tanks with salt water before entering the Seaway, a practice corporation officials describe as an interim measure, not a final solution.

Instead of hauling potentially contaminated water across the ocean, then dumping it in a Great Lakes port, a ballast-free ship would create a constant flow of local seawater through a network of large pipes, called trunks, that runs from the bow to the stern, below the waterline.

“In some ways, it’s more like a submarine than a surface ship,” Parsons said. “We’re opening part of the hull to the sea, creating a very slow flow through the trunks from bow to stern.

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Invasive Plants: Tamarisk

To Save the West, Kill a Plant by Josh McDaniel:

The tamarisk, an invasive species introduced to the United States from Eurasia, is a deep-rooted plant that aggressively obtains water from the soil and groundwater. A single mature tree can produce up to 500,000 seeds per year, crowding out native plants along rivers and creeks and reducing wildlife habitat. The species now infests all the major rivers, springs, ditches, and wetlands in ten states—including Texas, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and California—and is rapidly expanding into others.

In the delicately dry ecosystems of the southwestern United States, that is a serious problem, adding up to over 800 billion gallons of lost water per year across the parched region. “That is equal to the water needs of 20 million people or one million acres of irrigated farmland,” said Tim Carlson, an environmental engineer and director of the Tamarisk Coalition, which aims to control the plant.

Living systems include risks for those that attempt to engineer improvement. The past is littered with examples of attempts to intervene that go wrong.

“One night, after I gave a presentation on tamarisk, an older gentleman came up to me and told me that he had earned his Eagle Scout rank by planting tamarisk to prevent soil erosion after the Dust Bowl era in the 1930s,” Carlson recalled. “He said he would gladly earn it again by helping me remove it.”

I don’t think there is a simple answer. We are going to have intentional and unintentional consequences results from our actions. To me the lesson is to learn from our past that we often have unintended consequences that are worse than we envisioned and we need to be careful. We can’t assume there are no risks that we don’t know about. There are risks we can’t predict.

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