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Invasive species: Coming to a backyard near you!

Invasive species long have been a problem for Florida, and continue to plague our area. But what is an “invasive,” and what can you do about it?

First, a little background. Native species are defined as those that existed in Florida prior to European arrival, and they formed what we consider the natural Florida ecosystem. When the first Europeans came to this land, though, they brought with them an array of non-native plants and animals, also referred to as “aliens” or “exotics.”

Some of those alien species took hold, throwing natural Florida out of balance. Years later, the damage that these species can and do cause became part of the language used to form the National Invasive Species Council, which defined an “invasive species” as “…an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.”

INVASIVE IMPACT

Redbay ambrosia beetle. [CREDIT: UF/IFAS]

Over the course of the last 100 years or so, more than 50,000 foreign plant and animal species have become established in the United States. About one in seven has become invasive, with damage and control costs estimated at more than $138 billion each year (USDA/APHIS, 2001).

The redbay ambrosia beetle is an example of an invasive species causing great economic damage. The beetle carries a fungus that causes laurel wilt, a disease that infects Avocado trees. As of May 2016, that disease had killed 12,000 productive, mature avocado trees in Florida, a devastating blow to the $100 million a year industry. UF/IFAS researchers estimate the loss at roughly $4.2 million, with ongoing losses of $450,000 annually.

Some common invaders may even be in your backyard. Cottonwood, Mexican petunia, asparagus fern, camphor tree, Brazilian pepper, rosary pea (pictured above), and air potato are just a few.

SURVIVAL STRATEGIES

So, how do they take hold? Invasive species use several strategies to adapt to the Florida environment (we’re not the only ones who love to live here!). They can cause a wide range of damage, such as creating monocultures, outcompeting native species, and spreading disease. This can cause a ripple effect through the entire ecosystem, where native plants and animals may no longer have the water, food, or space they need to survive.

Other ecosystem and economic impacts include loss of biodiversity, loss of wildlife habitat, coastal erosion (which can lead to increased impacts from weather-related flooding and decreased property values), and loss of fisheries and tourism dollars.

Eventually, Florida is no longer Florida.

JOINING THE BATTLE

How can you help slow the onslaught of these invaders? Get to know your Florida-Friendly plants. Faculty and Master Gardeners at your local Extension office can assist you with choosing plants that are not a threat to our Florida ecosystems.

Learn to identify invasive exotic plants and animals, and report them if you find them. Never release pets or plants into natural areas.

And, volunteer at an invasive species workday. National Invasive Species Awareness Week is set for Feb. 24 to March 2, and you can volunteer at a location near you by visiting floridainvasives.org/nisaw.cfm.

Help keep your Florida natural.

 

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