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Invasive Species: How to “Flatten the Curve”

May 16-23 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week, and UF/IFAS Extension agents throughout Florida are raising awareness about invasive species and how we can limit their impact on our state’s economy, natural resources and our everyday lives. Because we’re currently dealing with an invasive pathogen known as COVID-19, most of these efforts are being conducted online and through social media.

UF/IFAS Extension has been researching invasive species and sharing solutions for their control for decades. To consolidate our expertise, the UF/IFAS Invasive Species Council has developed a new website to serve as a portal for all UF/IFAS invasive species programs.

Florida’s invasive species include plants, fish, insects, mammals and pathogens. Clockwise from top: Air potato, lionfish, Asian citrus psyllid, feral hogs.

Invasive species are any non-native organism that becomes a problem because it harms native plants or animals, human health, or the economy. They are a huge problem in our state–Florida is consistently second only to Hawaii in damage they cause. News stories frequently feature the hydrilla that clog our waterways, Burmese pythons that wreak havoc in the Everglades, bark beetles that decimate our forests, and psyllids that spread citrus greening disease across our signature orange groves. And for every one of these high-profile invaders, there are hundreds of lesser-known organisms that damage crops, spread disease, displace native species and upset balanced ecosystems.

The invasion curve is a tool Extension specialists use to help determine our response to invasives.  Preventing invasive species from entering the state is the most cost-effective solution, followed by early detection and rapid response (EDRR). If a species is not detected and eradicated early, it becomes increasingly difficult and expensive to limit their impact. Each year, Florida spends over $45 million trying to control invasive plants alone.

Five Ways We Can Flatten the Curve

Just as there are steps we can take to help flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several things we can all do to help limit the impacts of invasive species.

  1. Learn how to identify invasive species. Knowing the differences between native, non-native and non-native invasive species depends on close observation. UF/IFAS Extension has many resources that can help you identify plant and animal species:

Plants:

Reptiles and Amphibians:

Fish and Marine Life:

Insects:

All categories:

  1. Don’t invite invasive species into our state. The number of invasive species that have been introduced into our state through well-meaning gardeners and pet owners is legion. Before you consider taking home a new plant or exotic pet, always check with the retailer or about its risk of invasiveness. NEVER release a pet into the wild, but consider humane alternatives, such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Exotic Pet Amnesty Program.

 

  1. Report invasive species. Early detection and rapid response (EDRR) is the key to controlling invasive species before they become an established problem. UF/IFAS Extension enlists farmers, land managers, citizen scientists and even horseback riders to report the unusual plant and animal species they encounter.
    • IveGot1 is a handy mobile app you can use to identify, photograph, map and report organisms you think might be invasive.
    • The Florida First Detector Project is a partnership between the University of Florida and multiple state and federal agencies to provide e-learning modules that help Master Gardeners, small farm producers, nursery growers and park rangers recognize and report potential invasive species.

 

  1. Limit the spread of invasive species. When hunting, fishing, hiking or boating in Florida’s natural areas, you can help prevent spread of invasive species by brushing off hitchhikers on your clothes and shoes, avoiding moving firewood from one site to the next, and cleaning boats and other equipment thoroughly. You can find helpful tips for preventing the spread of aquatic invasive plants at Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers.

 

  1. Support invasive species control efforts. Once an invasive species become established, it takes an intense, coordinated effort to limit its impacts on our natural resources and our economy. UF/IFAS Extension is involved in many invasive species control efforts around the state. To find out about managing invasive species in your area, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office.
    • The Air Potato Patrol is a citizen science project that seeks to educate and involve as many members of the public as possible to help control air potato vine in Florida
    • Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs) are regional alliances of stakeholders addressing invasive species issues through early detection and rapid response, monitoring, management, and education. To find the CISMA in your area, visit https://www.floridainvasives.org/

Invasive species will always be a concern in our state. But with education, monitoring, common-sense practices and support for control efforts, we can make Florida a habitable place for ourselves and our rich diversity of native wildlife.

To learn more, visit the UF/IFAS Invasive Species Council website at  https://invasivespecies.ifas.ufl.edu/.

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