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Invasive species expert discusses outlook of ecosystem

By Staff | Apr 6, 2018

Stink bugs, pythons and kudzu-all invasive species that many people wish would just go away. Whether they’re introduced to the environment accidentally or intentionally, the end result is the same: disruptions and often devastation to the local ecosystem.

Adam Frederick, assistant director of education at Sea Grant Maryland, was the guest speaker at the First Tuesday speaker series held at Christ Reformed United Church of Christ in Shepherdstown. He discussed invasive species in the area.

Frederick cited the story of how the Chinese Chestnut tree was accidentally imported to America in the early 1900s and how it destroyed the American Chestnut tree. The death of the trees was a devastating blow to American agriculture and lumber businesses.

“It really is the same story, repeated over and over again, about how invasive species come about in a certain geographical region,” said Frederick. “If you were here when the American Chestnuts were the predominant tree, you would have walked outside and that’s the tree you would have seen everywhere … The trees were used for everything like lumber, food supply, all kinds of other things in farming. In a span of 40 to 50 years, the whole Eastern area from Maine to Georgia was devastated. All the Chestnuts were dead.”

Frederick noted the difference between non-native and invasive species: Invasive species are classified as such due to the environmental and economic harm they cause, and aren’t limited to plants, but include insects, fish, birds, bacteria and mammals.

He gave examples of invasive and non-native species including Burmese pythons and Cane toads in Florida, stink bugs, snakehead fish, the Norway rat and many others, including birds like English sparrows and starlings.

Even many common gardening practices introduce non-native species, like tulips, to people’s yards. Tulips don’t necessarily cause any problems, but people tend to forget they’re not native to the area, along with many other “exotics” that are planted.

The endless interconnection of species, bacteria and ecosystems make this issue of invasion a real cause for concern. Lack of natural predators, ecological destruction and rapid reproduction paint a bleak picture for the ability to control invasive species, but the country is making strides in management due to integrated pest control strategies, stricter regulations and monitoring of illegal animal trade, and more education about purposeful planting of native flora.

According to the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources website, the number of non-native invasive plant species in West Virginia is rising. Of vascular, or seed-bearing, plants found in West Virginia, 663 species, or 28 percent, outside the cultivation are non-native. Each year, ecologists become more aware of the number of invasive plant species within the state and the threats they pose to natural communities.

Ecologists from various state departments of natural resources agree that, with careful thought and control of introducing non-native species, as well as planting and encouraging growth of regional native plants, beneficial insects and organisms will be able to come back and thrive.