This month’s challenge is something near and (deathly) dear to my heart: the eradication of invasive species. One reason to get to know what belongs in your ecosystem is so that you can help keep out that which doesn’t belong. Obviously, if you are ignorant of the natives, you won’t recognize the aliens which will inevitably arrive.
So, here’s the thing, organisms move, deliberately and accidentally, all the time. When said organism arrives in a new landscape it will try to fit in and survive. Some do, some don’t. Some that do survive can be benign, like honeybees, or some can cause severe problems like garlic mustard or zebra mussels. These invasions have been happening since probably the beginning of life on Earth, but people have, at times, accelerated or worsened invasions (look up pythons in Florida for starters).
Once a foreign creature establishes a population, the problems begin, though we humans won’t notice it for some time. Again, some organisms are relatively benign, these are alien or exotic species, they can exploit a niche without much damage or displacement, much like most of our agricultural products or perhaps horses (as usual, I’m speaking from a North American perspective–see the working home page tab). Then there are the invasives. These are the plants and animals that not only survive but tend to crowd out and kill the natives and completely disrupt or destroy the ecosystem for which they were given a green card. They can do this because they generally have no predators keeping the population in check. No diseases to hold back their numbers; no reason not to survive and thrive, multiply and subdue.
Every state in the United States has some invasive species. Some more than others. Florida and Hawaii have the most. Here in Michigan and the surrounding Great Lakes we have over 183. Some of the worst offenders in SE Michigan are garlic mustard (pictured above), common and glossy buckthorn, several varieties of honeysuckle, autumn olive, zebra and quagga mussels, Eurasian milfoil, the emerald ash borer (which has killed nearly every single ash tree in lower Michigan and upper Ohio), and several more.
This is where all your “training” comes in: if you’ve been a faithful reader and and DO-er of the word rather than just a reader, then you should have some sense of what belongs in your ecosystem. Plants are probably the easiest to identify since they don’t move much, but perhaps some insects, birds, amphibians (the bullfrog, native to Michigan, is an invasive in California), reptiles, and mammals truly don’t belong in your yard or neighborhood. Pigeons, or rock doves, are a start, but good luck trying to eradicate them. No, you’re better off with plants. Check with a university extension office in your area, or your department of natural resources, to learn what might be setting up illegal areas of employment and reproduction in your area. If you find some unwelcome immigrants (in some cases, many invasives are illegal to possess or transport in your area) call the authorities or better yet take the law into your own hands: kill them, without quarter. Though you should find out first if it is even safe to handle the alien.
Here are several resources (for Michigan or the midwest) that are well worth the price: My favorite is (with its verbose title) A Field Identification Guide to Invasive Plants in Michigan’s Natural Communities, Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest, and for a more expansive view, Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants.