Ecology club promotes outdoor responsibility

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With invasive species accounting for over $136 billion per year, SCSU Ecology clubs member informed the audience last Monday about invasive species and how to prevent them.

In light of the Global Social Responsibility Conference, Devon Bowker, Ecology club president, said that stopping invasive species has grown into a global concern and responsibility. By finding various ways to enter new environments, he said that invasive species do not have borders, which includes Minnesota’s borders.

Considered ‘non-native’ or ‘alien’ to an ecosystem, upon introduction invasive species can cause harm to the environment, economy and even human health.

Invasive species can enter environments a number of ways, Bowker said. They can cross natural borders by firewood that’s not from the area or noncertified, along ships and fruit shipments and even domestic animals that have been released by the owner.

After transport, invasive species establish themselves in their new environment, then moving to the final invasion stage, the spread.

As they enter new environments, invasive species can have significant environmental impacts, Bowker explained. Invasive species have a general diet and can be highly adaptable to new environments, which means they can “out-compete” native species for vital resources including food and habitat, he said.

In turn, they can reduce both common and endangered species populations within the area, and they can cause irregularities within certain environments, like wildfire frequency or intensity and the availability of nutrients in the soil.

Aquatic and Terrestrial Invasive Species in Minnesota

Though invasive species lurk in various regions all over the world, Minnesota has had run-ins of its own. Joe Weaver, Ecology club treasurer, gave the audience examples of terrestrial invasive plant species, and explained ways they’ve been affecting Minnesota’s ecosystems.

Weaver said that Common Tansy and Buckthorn, both introduced for gardening purposes, compete with native plant species for space and resources

Though they’re “aesthetically pleasing… [The Common Tansy] contains alkaloids harmful to livestock and humans,” he said. Growing anywhere from two to five feet, the Common Tansy can grow in a range of places including roadside ditches.

Common and Glossy Buckthorn crowds out native species on the forest floor by forming “dense thickets” in the woods, Weaver said.

And after the introduction of the European Starling, an invasive bird brought over by Shakespeare fans in 1890, the sidewalks are left with purple and blue stains from the Starling picking, eating and carrying Buckthorn berries from place to place, Bowker said.

Weaver said that four different kinds of Biennial Thistles “choke out native vegetation by outcompeting for resources.”

Moving from land to water, Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and wetlands have seen their share of invasive species.

Today, Zebra Mussels, among other Mollusks, are the one of the most expensive invasive species, Arika Nyhus, Ecology club news chair, said.

Zebra Mussels attach themselves to most places water collects, and she said that they’re able to remain alive for days outside of water. They’ve been responsible for clogging intake pipes for processing and irrigation, and they can latch onto other species, preventing them from being able to move and even feed, she said.

This ‘widespread’ problem can be costly to both the economy and to the environment, but to there are different kinds of removal methods have been put into play to prevent further spread.

Prevention and Removal

“Prevention is the best way to stop invasive species,” Rene Martin, Ecology Club vice president, said.

To help reduce and regulate the spread of invasive species, control methods such as biological and chemical control, along with mowing and pulling, have been implemented, Weaver said.

Biological control was used to counter the invading Purple Loosestrife, which inhabits marshes, lakeshores and wetlands, Martin continued. Purple Loosestrife was responsible for “significantly reducing biological diversity of plant communities.”

In Minnesota, ‘biocontrol insects’ were release to limit the infestation, resulting in the “decimation” of the Purple Loosestrife population in over 700 sites in the state, she said.

Pulling or mowing and using chemical control methods are effective for removal too, however, when using chemicals to remove aquatic invaders, there’s risk of killing all the aquatic life in the process,

both native and invasive, Martin said.

And with invasive species like Zebra Mussels populating by the thousands in hundreds of Minnesota’s lakes, demonstrating prevention techniques can help prevent the spread and save boaters from a “hefty fine,” Nyhus said.

For anybody that enjoys the outdoors, whether it’s on the lake or in the woods, Bowker recommended staying on designated trails to help prevent the spread of invasive species. If choosing to get off the beaten path, it’s important for hikers to brush off any seeds or plants clinging onto clothes, boots or pets, he said.

As for the water, making sure your boat, trailer and other equipment is wiped clean of before packing up for the day prevents further spread of aquatic invasive species, he said. This includes draining your boat, and all other equipment, down to the last bait container, and he said that it’s also important to make sure you’re throwing away unwanted bait in the garbage, not in the lake.

If you’re willing to lend a helping hand, community or nature centers often times have volunteer programs that provide training on the identification and removal of invasive species, since some invasive species can be harmful to humans, Martin said.

”The problems that come from ignoring these things, are far more than the time it would take to clean out your boat, or brushing off the bottom of your shoes,” Bowker continued. “And a lot of things too, that you wouldn’t naturally think of, but by making them second nature, by being aware of invasive species, you really can make a difference.”