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Invasive species

Invasive species cover
Episode hosts

Kayla Edmunds

Val Maldonado

    Did you know that New York is a continental hub and on the front lines in the fight against invasive species? Have you been wondering what exactly an invasive species is? In this episode, Kayla and Val speak with  Rob Williams and Megan Pistolese from the St. Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Invasive Species Management and Dr. Linda Auker, invasive species biologist and a professor of biology at Misericordia University in Pennsylvania. The focus of this episode is invasive species in the North Country and what we can do about them!

    Episode transcript

    Rob Williams (00:00):

    I think it's important that people realize that invasive species do have an impact on our everyday lives. And that's something that's so commonly overlooked, you know, healthy forests create quality air that we all need to breathe. You know, keeping invasive's out of agricultural lands, create quality foods, um, that we all depend on. And even things like passive engagement in nature have these health benefits. So, if we, if we keep our lands and waters healthy and free of invasive's, they become more resilient, and provide us with the benefits that I've mentioned. I just think it's just so important that, you know, we think of that.

    Kayla Edmunds (00:54):

    Did you know that New York is a continental hub and on the front lines in the fight against invasive species, have you been wondering what exactly an invasive species is? In this episode we speak with three different professionals who are in the know when it comes to invasive species in our region. My name is Kayla.


    Val Maldonado (1:14)

    And my name is Val and today we speak with Rob Williams and Megan Pistolese from the St. Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Invasive Species Management and Dr. Linda Auker, invasive species biologist and a professor of biology at Misericordia University in Pennsylvania.  

    Rob Williams (01:48):

    Thank you. Good morning. So my background is I was educated at Brockport University as a Limnologist and not to date myself but, back in the mid-eighties is when I had my first experience professionally with invasive species and well, I've been doing invasive species work, ever since then. And I had the opportunity about 10 years ago to get involved with SLELO PRISM and help our partners develop a strategic plan. Now it's been 10 years since we've done that and things are going strong and I still love my work.

    Kayla Edmunds (02:29):

    That's great to hear Rob. Thank you. And Megan, what about you?

    Megan Pistolese (02:35):

    Yeah. Hey Megan here. So, um, I'm SLELO PRISM's, education outreach coordinator. I wear many hats and I, my favorite thing about my job is I get to learn about nature and teach people how to protect it from invasive species. And I'm just a little tidbit about how I got here. I actually started as a boat launch steward, so I highly recommend anybody who's interested in protecting our lands and waters, to go ahead and get involved in being a boat launch steward, we're often on the front lines, intercepting invasive species from being spread. So that's, that's where I came from.

    Kayla Edmunds (03:14):

    And what about you, Linda?

    Linda Auker (03:17):

    Thank you so much for having me. It's a real pleasure. So I've been studying invasive species for about, I think it's been about 16 years now, continuously. I actually got very interested in them when I was an undergraduate. Uh, I did an internship at NOAA fisheries and I was actually studying diets of a fish called the tautog. And we used to go beach stating, we take this big net and we go kind of walk out onto the beach and we scoop up all the fish. Now all of the tautog fish that you would catch with a beach sane were really small, like really tiny baby fish. And to get to the adults you'd have to go off shore. So we would take a boat and we go rod and reel fishing and it was really fun. But one day I was out beach sailing with, some of the other interns and we caught a fish that was about a foot and a half long, and I was like, that's not supposed to happen.

    Linda Auker (04:21):

    So I took it back to the lab and I looked at it stomach contents and its stomach contents were filled with Japanese shore crabs, which is a non-native species. And they're really easy to tell because they have these stripes on their legs and no other crab has that. And we also had, a Japanese shore crab expert in a lab and she said, Oh yeah, these are definitely short crab legs. It was the first time that they had been seen eating these. And it was really bizarre to see such a large fish so close. Right. And that kind of made me think a little bit about the invasive species seem to definitely have an impact on behavior. Right. So I, you know, I thought I kept that in the back of my mind. And when I went to grad school, my master's thesis advisor said, okay, here's a few choices you have for your master's thesis.

    Linda Auker (05:10):

    And one of them was, well, there's this species showing up we've never heard of before. Um, we don't know anything about it. I have no idea what you're going to do with it, how you're going to study it. But you know, here you go. And I said, Oh, that's perfect. That's exactly what I want. And, um, so that, that species was a, the common name is carpet tunicate, the scientific name is Didemnum vexillum, former students of mine at SLU might have heard of that cause I know I mentioned almost every class and I'm still working with it to this day. So as a graduate student, I was looking a lot at it's just general biology, cause we didn't know anything about it. And then when I got into my PhD program, we did notice those growing all over muscles. And so my goal was figure out what the impact was on the muscle biology, uh, that it was, you know, overgrowing and also the ecology.

    Linda Auker (06:10):

    So that's really what I've been doing. And I've been kind of branching out, you know, at St Lawrence, I taught an invasive species class a couple of times. Over the last 11 years as a professor I've been teaching and including now I have four students, I've been mentoring, undergraduate research students, and most of their questions deal directly with invasive species. So that's kind of what I've been up to. You know, and, you know, it's been really exciting, now I'm working with mathematical modelers, looking at how, when an invader shows up at a habitat, how that impacts, population and prey, excuse me, predator-prey population dynamics.

    Val Maldonado (06:54):

    Wow. That's really interesting. And 16 years, that's a long time, but it's really interesting. Just like the general idea of invasive species. So I kind of wanted to start off, just kind of whatever you want to introduce to us about invasive species. Just for the general public as if no one has heard of invasive species before, kind of what is it, what is an invasive species or what types of invasive species we have up here that we might not know about? So something along those lines, you're free to, to talk about anything.

    Linda Auker (07:42):

    Sure. So I can answer your first question. What is an invasive species? So the definition, the current definition that we're working with is an invasive species and organism that's transported by humans either accidentally or on purpose. That's brought into a new habitat and that successfully reproduces, in that habitat and spreads. So, you know, that spreading part is really critical, right? It spreads, it invades that habitat. There's an older definition where it basically said, a species that's introduced by humans that causes harm, but we've kind of moved away from that definition in recent years because it's a lot easier to measure something spreading than it is as to whether it causing harm. So, you know, what is considered harm and it kind of pulls the anthropogenic or anthropogenic, anthropocentric definition out. All right. So we're just looking at it spread, but we can agree that a lot.

    Linda Auker (08:45):

    I think a lot of people can agree who study invasive species, that most of the ones that we're aware of that are invasive or also both economically and ecologically harmful. There's a lot of different examples in St. Lawrence County. You know, the zebra mussel comes to mind, that's found in the great lakes, but I know it's in a lot of lakes up there, including the St. Lawrence as well as Black Lake, Brad Baldwin in the biology department studies those, he does a lot with those actually. There was also, I don't think it's up there yet, but maybe somebody will correct me if I'm wrong, but the Spotted Lantern Fly just all over the place down here in Pennsylvania. It just actually recently showed up in my county. I know that was a major concern of it getting up over the Adirondacks because the Spotted Lantern Fly feeds on hops, grapes, apples, basically everything we enjoy growing to make delicious beverages, right.

    Linda Auker (09:48):

    Or other things. And it basically decimates those, um, down here, basically, if we see a Spotted Lantern Fly, we squish it because we don't want it spreading any further. I'm trying to think what else you might see up there. There's actually quite a few. There's the Emerald Ash Borer, and I know Nature Up North has done a lot of really interesting work with that in recent years with some tree surveys, Asian Longhorn beetle, a lot of insects we're noticing, the Round Gobies so a lot of aquatic insects as well, and a lot of plants.

    Val Maldonado (10:26):

    Going along those lines. I don't know if you want to talk a little bit, more about why do they outcompete native species or what can we do to make sure that we don't spread invasive species, um, kind of like the prevention or kind of how it happens if you want to.

    Linda Auker (10:46):

    Absolutely. So to be an invasive to answer your first question, to be an invasive species, you basically have to jump through a lot of different hoops, right? You have to be able to survive transport into a new environment, and then from there you have to like the new environment enough to survive there and also reproduce there. But then you also have to be able to compete with the other species that are already in that new environment. Right? Cause it's not a blank slate. There's a lot of other species are already there. And so you have to be able to compete with those in order to possibly spread. So every kind of step along the way, that's going to filter out the species that aren't going to be able to survive each of those steps. So it's, there's something called the Ten's Rule in invasion biology. So it basically says that at every step of invasion, only about 10% of species are able to make it to the next step. So only 10% survive transport, only 10% survive and reproduce, only percent spread. You know? So that means those that are left over that actually become invasive are the best competitors or are the voracious predators like the Burmese Python in Florida, right? These are the, you know, kind of the best fit to survive. So that's why they're so good at out competing other species. And they kind of grow everywhere, because they are well adapted to survival, right?

    Linda Auker (12:23):

    So Linda mentioned the Spotted Lantern Fly and the potential impact it poses to New York and the North Country, Rob or Megan, can you just elaborate a little bit more on how New York is impacted by invasive species overall?

    Rob Williams (12:38):

    Kayla, unfortunately, New York is what we consider to be a continental hub. If you will, for the import and export of an invasive species. And by being this type of continental hub, it makes us a link in the global threat of invasive species. And one of the reasons that New York is considered this, what we call a continental hub is because, we have a lot of ports of entry, and there's a tremendous amount of overseas commerce that takes place here in New York. We have numerous shipping ports. We have the New York Harbor, we have ports of entry in the St Lawrence river, Lake Ontario. We have international airports, military bases, um, and all these mechanisms by which people interact and move around and travel. And unfortunately with that human activity comes the potential for, both unintentional introduction of invasive species

    Rob Williams (13:48):

    and in some cases, intentional introduction of invasive species. So, New York plays a key role in the prevention of invasive species into North America, as well as the export of invasive species, that species that are native to North America, but end up being transported to other parts of the globe and then they become invasive there. So it's, you know, it's kind of a unique situation that New York is in, based on our geography and based on all these mechanisms by which we can move, pests, pathogens and seeds and whatnot around the globe. And there are other continental hubs like Central European countries and Southeast Asian countries. So yes, you could say we're all in this together, but we have a huge responsibility here in New York to take a lead and do what we can to prevent this type of movement of invasive species.

    Kayla Edmunds (14:53):

    Yeah. And New York being the epicenter of this kind of a two-part question, what are, I guess, the numbers or the stats of the invasive species that are being faced and also just like, what are some that pose the most like impact or like danger to the native environment?

    Rob Williams (15:15):

    Yeah. So that's a kind of a tough question to address Kayla because every day we're dealing with the threat of potentially new species, and we're doing our best to, suppress those species that have been around for a while. But every day is a new day and every day there's new challenges when it comes to various types of invasive flora and fauna that's affecting New York, I will say that, some of the literature suggests that nearly 50% of all threatened or endangered species, occur as the result of invasive species. So in terms of a metric that's huge, you know, and these invasive species, create all kinds of impacts, creating an imbalance of ecosystem stability and function, for example, and by function I mean, well, let's say a forest's ability to sequester carbon, an invasive forest pest moves into that forest,

    Rob Williams (16:21):

    we have a high mortality of trees and that reduces that forest's ability to store carbon. Invasive species disrupt feeding habits of various, animals and those are feeding habits that take eons to develop, invasive species cause sickness in humans such as the West Nile virus or Giant Hogweed and the economic impact in North America, actually in the U S is in the neighborhood of 160 plus billion annual. So there's a lot of impacts aside from the environmental impact that we need to consider when we have discussions about invasive species.

    Kayla Edmunds (17:07):

    So there's clearly a lot of factors to take into account. Can you tell us more about what SLELO PRISM is doing to take this challenge on as well as what the acronym SLELO PRISM actually stands for?

    Rob Williams (17:21):

    I'd be more than happy to. So the St Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management, also known as SLELO PRISM is, we're one of eight regional partnerships in New York state. And we SLELO, along with the other PRISM's were created, as the result of a statewide initiative back in the early 2000's. And so recognizing that New York state was this continental hub that we talked about, it was recommended at the time that the entire state be covered by what we call a PRISM network. So there are eight of these partnerships across New York state. The entire state of New York is covered within those eight PRISM's. We're the only state in the nation that has this type of network. Other States are now considering similar initiatives, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, for example, and then bringing it home a little bit, our partnership, the SLELO partnership we have, I believe it's 19 formal local partners who share a common cause and bring tremendous amount of expertise to the table. And our partnership is also complimented by statewide partners, such as, Department of Environmental Conservation, Ag and Markets, and even the New York Invasive Species Research Institute. So we're all working together at the regional level and across the state at the state level, to address invasive species and, you know, by having this network of committed individuals and organizations, you know, we feel that collaboration is absolutely key to success.

    Kayla Edmunds (19:09):

    Awesome. Interesting to hear that New York is the only state that does this. You would think that it would be a more popular thing country-wide, but good to know that there are some states considering adopting it.

    Rob Williams (19:24):

    And Kayla, you know that, if you think about it, if you look at the entire state in this entire network you know, I think it's important to talk about what it is, you know, what our overall goals are, and collectively not just in the St Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Region, but collectively throughout the state. I mean, our goal is to protect our lands and waters from degradation caused by invasive species and to be able to do it not only locally and regionally, but at scale. And by at scale, I mean, you know, if we look at the connectivity of our lands and waters, Erie Canal connected to the Finger Lakes connected to Lake Ontario and inland waters, and even our forests, we have Tug Hill, the Adirondacks, but we also have the system known as the Blue Ridge to Boreal, which is a continental scale forest system. And so to enhance the resiliency of these systems by fostering native species diversity, while at the same time dealing with the changing climate, it's really important that we all work together with this common, you know, for this common cause. And a lot of which, you know, our work can, in protecting lands and waters, can be done through prevention, early detection and rapid response.

    Kayla Edmunds (20:48):

    Yeah. I would love to hear more about what sort of, how education plays a role in invasive species management. So Megan, if you want to take it away.

    Megan Pistolese (20:59):

    Sure. Thank you. So, education plays a role in invasive species management in a very impactful and unique way. We get the message out there, you know, we get the message of clean-drain-dry. We explain what that means, you know, take a moment, clean your boat, drain the bilge, dry it. So invasive species aren't spread from one water body to another. We put the message out there for play-clean-go, which means, you know, take a moment, clean your shoes, go play, and then clean your shoes again. So you're not spreading things around. So, we are the messengers for that. We engage the public. We keep the invasive species prevention, in the forefront of people's minds. So they know what they're dealing with and what they can do to actively help prevent the spread and protect their lands, waters, their urban spaces, their favorite wild places.

    Kayla Edmunds (21:58):

    Clearly there are a lot of great initiatives in place. Linda, what do you suggest people do to limit invasives,

    Linda Auker (22:05):

    To be a good, to prevent invasion or, to, as a citizen, my advice is to be a good steward of the environment, be very mindful about, you know, if you're an active voter, for example, clean your boat and your boating equipment, including your fishing waders, if you don't have a boat, all those little like seeds and little fragments, cause some of these plants species, for example, can reproduce asexually through fragmentation. So they might get stuck in your boots, right? So you want to make sure that stuff gets completely cleaned off, um, you know, use whatever you need to, to, to, uh, to clean it before you go to a new Lake. Right. Don't move firewood long distances, right? A lot of these other, especially these insect species, I'm thinking about the Spotted Lantern fly, the Asian Longhorn beetle.

    Linda Auker (23:05):

    They tend to really like wood, right. Or packing material made of wood. So just, you know, don't take, you know, don't buy, definitely don't buy firewood in Pennsylvania and bring it up to the North Country, that's the last thing you want to do. Right. You're almost guaranteeing you're going to be bringing something with you if that's the case. If you're a gardener for native species, right. You know, don't plant anything you don't, if you don't know what it is, I'm always wary of those bags of mixed seeds. You can get, you know, it just says, "Oh, wildflower mix." I want to know which of those are actually native to the area. You know, and if you do, know which species to look out for, check out the SLELO PRISM website, get familiar with what kind of things look for.

    Linda Auker (23:55):

    And if you do find something, you know, notify your local environmental agency, notify a local expert, and find a way to contain and eradicate that species. So it doesn't spread any further. And also, I mean, and for that, you know, some methods of, of eradicating say a plant species are better than others. Sometimes you can just pull it up by the root other times you need some sort of chemical, or bio-control to get rid of it because mechanical removal isn't quite good enough. So there's a lots of different ways to lots of different things to think about.

    Kayla Edmunds (24:32):

    Megan or Rob, do you have anything else you would like to add about how community members can help prevent the spread of invasive species, especially in terms of working with the different programs that SLELO PRISM runs?

    Megan Pistolese (24:45):

    Yeah. Yeah, definitely. So listeners can help by familiarizing themselves of the invasive species that threaten our region and taking simple steps to help stop their spread. Such as things I mentioned earlier, cleaning, draining, drying their water-crafts, cleaning their hiking shoes before exploring and reporting invasive plants and animals they may encounter while enjoying the outdoors. So our website, SLELOinvasive.org, it showcases invasive species that are not yet known to be in our region, along with invasive's, that folks may encounter in their own backyards. So by visiting our website, listeners can learn to identify report and manage these invasive species. Listeners can also get actively involved by joining our invasive species volunteer surveillance network. Participants of this network are trained to recognize and report what we call Tier One species, which are species that are within close proximity to, or not yet known to be within our region.

    Megan Pistolese (25:50):

    Strengthening early detection efforts for these species allows us to discover and manage invasive populations while they're small enough to eradicate. So it's very important. Currently we're focusing early detection efforts for an invasive forest pest that kills hemlock trees, called Hemlock Woolly Adelgid or HWA. During the fall and winter months, HWA secretes this white woolly mass, similar to the cotton on Q-tip around its body. The mass can be found on hemlock needles where they connect to the branch. So listeners who like to hike or snowshoe tune in here because you can actively help protect your hemlock trees by taking a closer look at the branches of hemlock trees that you may encounter for these white woolly masses. And to help raise awareness for hemlock woolly, and to further engage the public. We're launching a virtual hike challenge on Facebook that will run from November through March because that's when hemlock woolly adelgid secretes this white woolly mass, participants are asked to take a hike, check hemlocks for these white woolly masses, and post a photo of their experience using the hashtag "virtual hike challenge" in the post. And they can enter to win some cool prizes like hats and pins and shirts and all sorts of cool things. So to learn of great hikes in the region that have hammock trees near the trails, it will be easy for hikers to find, and to see photos of the white woolly masses that I'm talking about, people can visit our website at “sleloinvasives.org/virtualhikechallenge” and get involved.

    Val Maldonado (27:36):

    Linda, is there anything you’d like to add about invasive species?

    Linda Auker (27:51):

    One of the things I find most interesting about them as an ecologist, kind of from a, you know, as a, from a scientist point of view, one thing that's really fascinated me was about these, these individuals is that they teach us a lot about nature, right. And how the new species is brand new to an environment can impact a community, right. It's completely unethical to introduce something on purpose to see what happens, but they do provide us an opportunity of knowing when they're there to give us a clear picture of, you know, how did things adapt to, you know, a Burmese Python or a, you know, Spotted Lantern Fly. I think it's going to answer a lot of questions for ecologists as to how nature works, which I really appreciate. You know, again, don't move these things around on purpose, but I think we can take advantage of the ones that are here and learn more about them, and learn more about nature and evolution and ecology and all these kind of burning questions we have.

    Kayla Edmunds (29:05):

    Thank you all for listening in on this episode of naturally speaking and thank you to Rob and Megan from SLELO PRISM, who you can find on Facebook at SLELO Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management, as well as Linda Auker for taking the time to teach us all a little bit more about invasive species,

    Val Maldonado (29:23):

    Check out our other podcasts, as well as our social media @NatureUpNorth on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Get up and get outdoors with Nature Up North.