U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA-5) today announced that he founded the bipartisan Congressional Invasive Species Caucus. Thompson co-founded the caucus with Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI-1). The Caucus will serve to raise awareness about invasive species, support local communities who are bearing the brunt of this problem, and promote efforts to prevent and control the spread of invasive species. The Caucus will provide opportunities for Members of Congress to meet with other policy makers, organizations and industry leaders that are working to prevent the spread of invasive species.
“Invasive species pose a costly challenge to infrastructure, agriculture and the environment,” said Thompson.“By bringing together experts and industry leaders, we can come up with plans to protect our communities from invasive species before they become a major problem.”
Invasive species threaten communities by devastating native habitat, damaging crops, clogging water pipes, infecting plants and animals with dangerous diseases, or outcompeting native species. These impacts can lower crop yields, pose health hazards, irreparably damage natural environments, and take a severe toll on local, state, and federal budgets.
A new book, Novel Ecosystems, edited by Richard Hobbs of the University of Western Australia and others, shows how many superficially natural ecosystems are heavily influenced by the introduction of alien species. Whether intentional or accidental, most introductions seem to have human origins.
This is disconcerting. “Over large parts of the globe, the ‘wilderness’ that people refer back to never existed,” says one of the book’s authors, Michael Perring, also of the University of Western Australia.
Nature has always had open borders for alien species on the move. Those itinerants may have been a driving force of evolution. But human activity has dramatically increased their travel options. We move many deliberately, as commercial crops or domesticated animals, for instance. Today, others can hitch a ride on ship hulls or in ballast tanks, aboard planes or on the wheels of trucks or the backs of domesticated animals. This phenomenon seems to have been going on for much longer than we sometimes imagine.
Ticks are champions at spreading diseases, expanding in both poor countries and rich ones, and delivering an extraordinary menagerie of bacteria, protozoans, and viruses. In a 2010 report on the dangers of ticks, the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, declared the animals, with what sounds almost like admiration, “the Swiss Army knife of disease vectors.”
IT’S STARTLING to look at the graphs of tick-borne diseases over the past few decades. They’re mostly going in the wrong direction. The research on Lyme disease is fairly recent, sparked in the mid-1970s after a cluster of children around Lyme developed fever and aches. They were diagnosed with juvenile arthritis—a peculiar diagnosis for so many children in one place. Their parents searched for an explanation, and eventually Allan Steere, a doctor at Yale, figured out that they suffered from an infectious disease. The fact that they all came from a rural part of the state suggested that an insect or some other animal had delivered the infection. In 1982, Willy Burgdorfer, an entomologist with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, discovered corkscrew-shaped bacteria in black-legged ticks from Long Island. He exposed the bacteria to serum from people with Lyme disease and discovered that their antibodies swarmed around the microbes. That was a sign that these bacteria—which would later be named Borrelia burgdorferi after him—were the cause of Lyme disease.
Since Burgdorfer’s discovery, Lyme disease has spread relentlessly. New York and other northeastern states started recording new infections in the eighties. In the Midwest, Lyme disease came to light around the same time in Wisconsin and began radiating out from there. Today it can be found as far west as California, as far south as Virginia, and to the north across the border into Canada. Each year, 38,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with the condition. The list of symptoms includes fever, aches, fatigue, and, if left untreated for a length of time, arthritis, heart arrhythmia, and neurological damage. Lyme disease is rarely fatal.
The fish could be causing major problems for Louisiana’s coastal fisheries in eight to 10 years if nothing is done.
Asian carp, including species such as bighead and silver carp, were introduced in the Midwest in the 1970s to clean murky fish farm ponds. The fish are filter feeders, munching microscopic plant and animal plankton from the water. Flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers caused ponds to overflow, allowing Asian carp to escape into other rivers and reproduce in the wild.
These fish eat voraciously and reproduce rapidly. One fish reproduces three to four times a year, releasing between 100,000 to 3 million eggs each spawning, Parola said. They have no major predators and can eat more than 20 percent of their body weight in algae and plankton a day. Asian carp can weigh up to 100 pounds. With their large size and hunger for plankton, they could pose a threat to native species.
As the climate warms, plant species that prefer a colder environment are disappearing from the mountain ranges of Southern Europe. Since many of these species have small distribution areas, they are now threatened with extinction, according to two new studies from European researchers.
"These species have migrated upwards, but sooner or later the mountain reaches its summit," said researcher and biologist Ulf Molau at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg. "Many alpine plant species are disappearing from mountain ranges in Southern Europe, and for some of them - those that are only found in a single mountain range - the outlook is extremely bleak."
Over a period of 10 years, researchers around Europe have gathered samples from 13 different mountain regions.
Using digital technology and intensive on-site field work, they have been able to study a grid pattern of square meters, selected on different high mountain summits, from the treeline up to the highest peaks.
The digital photographs provide a detailed picture of which species have disappeared between 2001 and the present day.
"Every research square is digitally photographed so that we can find our way back to the exact same position after 10 years or more, with centimeter precision," said Professor Molau. "By rolling out an analysis network, small 10 x 10 cm squares can be re-mapped."
Today, the researchers are able to observe that species are migrating upwards and that the variety of species in Southern European mountain regions has declined during the 10 years in which samples have been taken.
"This finding confirms the hypothesis that a rise in temperatures drives Alpine flora to migrate upwards. As a result, rival species are threatened by competitors, which are migrating to higher altitudes. These changes pose a threat to high-mountain ecosystems in the long and medium term," the authors state.
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