According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an invasive species is defined as “an organism that causes ecological or economic harm in a new environment where it is not native.” Some invasive species successfully breed and proliferate; many can out-compete native species, destroying or reducing native plants and animals and even introducing new diseases.
Humans have introduced invasive species into new areas in a number of ways, such as through exotic pet trade, shipping, and accidental and intentional releases. Other means for the spread of invasive species include the displacement of seeds by animals and intense weather events. In the Great Lakes region, invasive animal species that have significantly changed the ecosystem include zebra mussels, Asian carp, alewife, and round goby. The invasive plants that have outcompeted many native ones include common reed, reed canary grass, purple loosestrife, and curly pondweed.
Recently in the Florida Everglades, the largest invasive Burmese python, 215 pounds, was captured under dense vegetation. Previously, the largest identified python, caught in 2016, weighed 140 pounds according to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. This invasive snake originated in Southwest Asia, was introduced through the exotic pet market in the 1980s, and has threatened the native flora and fauna of the Florida ecosystem for many years. To combat the introduction of native species, the Nature Conservancy suggests that we choose native plants for our gardens, clean boats when moving from one body of water to another, clean boots and shoes before and after hiking, and never release exotic animals into the wild and volunteer to remove invasive species. Soon, Floridians can participate in the annual Florida Python Challenge, where the public is encouraged to hunt and remove pythons for a prize. Kudos to all those participants!
Julie Peller, Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ). Julie has been writing a weekly column for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), and student and citizen participation in environmental work.