How invasive species can impact the environment, economic stability, and the health of others!

Photo credit: Purple Loosestrife; From Ohio Environment Council

When walking through a park or on a boat, you may see several plants that look and seem beautiful and helpful to the environment; however, they could be causing damage to the ecosystem and habitat around them. Invasive species can impact environmental conditions by negatively impacting biodiversity, economic stability by decreasing crop yields and affecting recreational areas, and human and animal health through painful rashes and causing flu-like symptoms. They might be seen on a local hike or could be within your own backyard. It is essential to understand the environment that you are in and how you can affect it! This article will discuss what invasive species are, some common ones within the Midwest, how they can harm the environment, and what you can do to help!

What are invasive species?

An invasive species is an organism that can cause ecological or economic harm in an environment where it is not native or established. These could be in the form of animals, plants, trees, or other non-native organisms. Many invasive plants, similar to what Krystyna Meyer discussed in our interview with her, can cause harm to a variety of environments. Invasive plants can produce large quantities of seeds, thrive on disturbed soil, and can be distributed by birds, wind, or humans without their knowledge. Some common non-native plant species that are in the United States are Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), and English Ivy (Hedera helix).

Photo credit: Asian Carp; From Tiffany Jolley at the UIUC Prairie Research Institute

Within the Midwest, there are many common invasive species. The Asian carp (Cyprinus carpio) and Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) can cause havoc and create problems within this area. One of the main issues with the spread of the Asian carp is that some carp may be out-competing native fish for other food like plankton. This can decrease the population of different fish and also impact the commercial market. Purple Loosestrife is another common invasive species in the Midwest. This species can make it challenging to access open water, overtake habitat and outcompete with other native aquatic plants, and provide unstable habitat, food, and shelter for other animals. Some invasive species may seem like typical plants, but they can cause a variety of damage to our environment.

How can they harm the environment?

Invasive species are capable of causing extinctions of native plants and animals, reducing biodiversity, competing with native organisms for limited resources, and changing habitats. This can result in substantial economic impacts and fundamental disruptions of coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems. It can also affect other plant’s ability to survive and thrive in specific environments. For example, the English Ivy (Hedera helix) is considered one of the worst-spread invasive plants because of its ability to handle widespread conditions. It is an aggressive spreading vine, which can slowly kill other plants and trees because it can block sunlight or other necessary minerals. Additionally, they may affect plant diversity, agricultural lands, water quality, and soil erosion, so invasive species can affect your daily and long-term life!

Another important factor when understanding invasive species is acknowledging that they can be spread in various ways. Invasive species can be introduced to an area by ship ballast water, firewood, other animals, accidental release, and people. Human actions are the primary means of invasive species introductions. This can occur from picking plants and taking them home, not cleaning your shoes or specific vehicles, or even releasing fish or plants into the wild.

Planting native plants

One thing that you can do to help limit invasive species is planting native plants and trees. Native plants may adapt better to the local climate and soil conditions, which allow plant species to provide pollen, seeds, and other essential food for insects, birds, and other animals. There are also several other advantages to planting native plants. For example, native plants do not require fertilizers and need fewer pesticides. They help with air pollution, promote biodiversity, and can create beautiful environments!

Photo credit: Midwest Invasive Plant Network

What can you do to help?

Besides planting native plants and trees, below are a few ways that you can help limit invasive species!

  • Clean your hiking and fishing gear
  • Volunteer at removal efforts
  • Report invasive species
  • Educate yourself about invasive species in your areas
  • Check your pet’s paws when traveling.

The Chief of the USDA Forest Service identified invasive species as one of the four critical threats to our Nation’s Forest and Grasslands, so we want to make sure we are doing our part to limit this. We want to connect individuals of all ages to the natural environment and make sure they can safely help themselves and the surrounding nature. You can help make a difference, whether it be in your backyard or various forest preserves!

References and Resources:

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