News / USA

Alien Species Not Always Welcome Visitors

Some non-native species are harmless, but others wreak havoc on other species, human health and the economy

Sea lampreys attach to fish with a suction cup mouth ringed with sharp teeth.
Sea lampreys attach to fish with a suction cup mouth ringed with sharp teeth.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Not all non-native species are created equal, says ecologist Mark Davis. He wants to do away with the popular view that divides the natural world into two opposing camps - native species and non-native species.  

In an essay in the journal Nature, the Macalester College biology professor joins 18 other scientists to argue that action to protect ecosystems should be based on species impact and not species origin.  

He urges conservation managers to order their priorities around how non-native species impact other species, human health, waterways and the economy.  

“What we should focus on is what is the species doing?" he says. "What are its functions within the community and then (decide) to keep or not."  In some cases those would be non-native species and in other cases, not native.

Davis and his colleagues do not deny that real problem species exist.  “Some of them are native. Some are non-native.  The ones that are non-native we should try to keep them out from countries in which they are not currently inhabiting.  But once the species are in, you often have to learn to live with them.”  

But that’s not always an option. Jennifer Nalbone is director of Invasive Species Navigation with Great Lakes United. The U.S. Canada coalition is dedicated to keeping aggressive invaders out of the lakes, and controlling those already there.  

She points to the on-going struggle with zebra mussels. They arrived in the mid-1980’s in ship ballast water from the Black and Caspian Sea region, and have become a major threat to wildlife, navigation, and boating.  “You could look back in history to the (19)80s and (19)90s in Monroe, Michigan when a power plant and the city’s water supply were shut down because its intake pipes were clogged with zebra mussels. Mussels contributed to a valve problem in the 1990s at the Nine Mile Nuclear Power plant in Lake Ontario.”

Each year zebra mussels cost the region between $100 million to $200 million.

Sea Lamprey is an eel-like fish native to the U.S. Atlantic coast that is also now found in the Great Lakes. Twenty million dollars are spent each year to fight this parasitic pest. Nalbone says with that in mind, the focus is on stopping the next big invader - Asian Carp. “These are burdens that the Great Lakes are struggling under right now and we don’t want another one in the region.”

Yet, she says, the Asian Carp, which can grow up to a meter long and weigh as much as 45 kilograms, is making its way north.  The voracious eater, imported by Midwestern fish farmers in the 1970s, could end up devastating the region’s 7 billion dollar fishing industry.

All that is holding it back now is an electric fence. Nalbone says keeping carp from Chicago is high on her list.

However, not all non-native species pose such a threat.

The large, bell-shaped Devil's claw, which is native to Central and South America, was introduced into Australia in the 19th century.
The large, bell-shaped Devil's claw, which is native to Central and South America, was introduced into Australia in the 19th century.

Take the Devil’s Claw, a Mexican herb that today grows wild in Australia. The campaign to eradicate the weed has mobilized hundreds of volunteers. Despite those efforts, Devil’s Claw persists and Davis says there is little evidence that the ecosystem is at risk.

“This tendency to jump to conclusions, the assumption of negative impacts, that has cost us a lot of money and resources directed to areas where there really wasn’t a lot of harm which meant they were not available to be used on species which were really causing harm.”

Another example is tamarisk. The shrub was imported from Eurasia and Africa in the mid-1800s to control soil erosion in the American Southwest, but it spread to river systems across the West and up mountainsides, to elevations of 2,000 meters.

After tamarisk removal, some land managers are turning to an innovative grow-out method called long-stems.
After tamarisk removal, some land managers are turning to an innovative grow-out method called long-stems.

While millions of dollars have been spent to suppress tamarisk, Davis, says the shrubs are not all bad.

“In fact (they) are now providing important habitat for some of the wildlife there, and if we eradicate them, we are actually making things worse.”

Stacey Kolegas, director of the Tamarisk Coalition, says tamarisk control is part of a coordinated plan for river health. She agrees with Davis that conservation must be science-based and site specific.  

“A community that has monoculture of tamarisk running through their downtown right where their river runs is going to be managing tamarisk for fire mitigation, whereas a wildlife area is going to be managing tamarisk because they want to increase the berry producing shrubs on their land to enhance wildlife habitat.”

You May Like

Amnesty: EU Failing Migrants, Refugees

Rights group says migrants, refugees subject to detention, extortion, beatings More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deali
X
July 07, 2015 12:02 PM
If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs