Florida Is So Nice Everything Wants To Live Here, Including Non-Native Animals And Plants!
“Invasions of exotic species cost Floridians over $500 million per year” -Ivegot1.org. May 16th-23rd is Florida Invasive Species Awareness Week and there will be plenty of educational resources to check out during this time to expand your knowledge on the issue! Florida Sea Grant has made some neat videos on some commonly found coastal invasive species. These short PSAs have information on what you can do to prevent the spread and impacts of these invasive plants and animals.
When checking the literature, native species may sometimes be called indigenous or endemic. Non-native species are at times referred to introduced, exotic or slapping the word “non” in front of any of the above lingo.
A definition provided by UF researchers for non-native species is: A species (subspecies, cultivar, selection, etc.) introduced (intentionally or accidentally) outside its natural past or present distribution.
The term invasive species as defined by the Florida Invasive Species Partnership (FISP): an organism (plant, animal, fungus, or bacterium) that is not native and has negative effects on our economy, our environment, and/or our health.
There are variations of on the definition of invasive species. One disputed version is that a “native” species can be invasive in some incidences when introduced to an ecosystem that it is not normally found in. Florida has both tropical and subtropical climates, 4 different growing zones and many diverse ecosystems. What’s native to South Florida can be alien to the Panhandle but could be considered “native” to Florida. This topic will most likely pop up again with climate change expanding habitable ranges of species and sea level rise/saltwater intrusion displacing others.
Invasive species can decrease biodiversity of native flora and fauna, this can be done by competing for resources (tilapia, non-native plants) or even preying upon the locals (tegus, pythons, iguanas, brown anoles, Cuban tree frogs). They can also cause plenty of economic harm from damaging crops (feral hogs, citrus psyllids), equipment/structures (zebra mussels) or by attempting to control the spread (aquatic plants, pythons). In some cases, invasive species can even be harmful to humans or pets by interacting with their noxious/venomous defenses (cane toads, lionfish, hogweed, Brazilian pepper) or through transmission of disease (giant snails, rats). The examples provided aren’t the only species that cause those negative symptoms but can give you some starting points on how certain species may be considered invasive.
Some common characteristics of invasive species include:
- Fast growth rates
- Short time to reproduction
- Production of many offspring/seeds
- Effective dispersal
- Tolerant to many habitats
- Efficient utilization of resources
What You Can Do:
Prevention is the best method to stop the spread of non-native species from becoming established and causing damage both the environment and our wallets. States have lists of prohibited species, conditional species and regulations regarding the transport of non-native species to attempt from having plants and animals invade the environment either through intentional means or by accident. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) even has exotic pet amnesty days in which pet owners can surrender unwanted exotic pets to prevent the release of non-native animals into the wild. Commonly brought in animals are iguanas, monitor lizards and constrictor snakes that have gotten too large for the owner to properly care for. These events are free to the public and no penalties will be placed on the pet owner even if the animal is held illegally. Find more information about the program here.
Established Species– A non-native species that does not need human help to reproduce and maintain itself over time in an area where it is non-native.
Complete eradication of species that have been established is very difficult, costly and unlikely under most circumstances; therefore, early detection and rapid response (EDRR) is crucial in attempt to stop the spread of a non-native species that could potentially become invasive. Reporting sightings of non-native or invasive species can be done in many ways. FWC promotes the use of the IveGot1 app in which users can take a photo, record the coordinates and whether there is one or multiple individuals of that species present. Reporting can also be done online at eddmaps.org/florida/report/ or by phone by calling 888-483-4681 (888-Ive-Got1). Playing around with the EDD Maps distribution page can give you an idea on which non-native species may be found in your county.
To become more involved, look up your local Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA) group and learn how you can make a difference in your neck of the woods. There are several invasive species derbies/rounds ups which can be super fun to participate in. If diving is your thing join the FWC Reef Rangers to find out what you can do to control the lionfish population, fortunately this invasive is delicious and makes for great table fare.
Don’t be scared! Not all non-native species are invasive, in fact you may already be surround by some. Food crops grown in Florida and around the country are an example of a non-native species which are beneficial and essential to society! Many of the ornamental plants in your yard are non-native, some have barriers to prevent them from becoming established or spreading; however, 82-94% of intentional introductions of invasive plants have been linked to the ornamental plant trade, forestry & agriculture. Examples of barriers that reduce the chance of dispersal can be mismatched climates, not having the required pollinating insects etc. Some plants have even been made sterile to prevent non-intentional spreading. In Florida, ~1,400 exotic species of plants have been introduced, ~11% have become established in the environment and ~6% (79) of the species are considered to be invasive. More information on Florida’s non-native and invasive plants can be found here.
Non-native species do not always have to be negatively viewed but should be handled with care to reduce headaches for ourselves and the environment. If thinking about buying a pet, make sure you’re able to care for the animal for its entire life. Before bringing it home, research should be done on the all requirements needed for owning that animal when fully grown. When looking for new plants for around the yard, I suggest following Florida Friendly Landscaping principles and pick some native varieties. These plants will be best suited to your climate and require minimal upkeep compared to some ornamentals that may require increased irrigation or fertilization. If you still want to pursue non-native plants, you can check out this great tool by the University of Florida to filter out which plant species have a low risk of invasion or may not be a problem as well as find out which ones are prohibited.
For more information reach out to your county’s extension office or check out the state’s resources on non-native and invasive species. Counties may also have ordinances prohibiting certain exotic plants from being planted and a quick Google search can clear up a lot of future issues.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” -Benjamin Franklin
USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species website, great list of non-native invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants throughout the country. Interesting maps available on where these species were spotted.
University of Florida Assessment of Non-native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas Tool, great to use by filtering out “conclusion type” to see risk level of potential invasion