Considered one of the top six biodiversity hotspots in the country, Northwest Florida contains many unique upland, wetland, and marine habitats which house a variety of plants and animals. Invasive species are non-native or exotic species that do not naturally occur in an area and cause harm to the environment, human health, and the economy. These invasive species have become the primary threat to biodiversity on protected lands. Because invasive species do not know boundaries, public and private lands are affected, as well as natural and man-made water bodies and associated watersheds. In Florida there are over 500 non-native fish and wildlife species and over 1180 non-native plant species that have been documented. These exotic species are able to out-compete many native species, causing habitat degradation, wildlife community imbalances, and diseases that can destroy economically important plants. This is a worldwide issue that can be addressed on local levels.
One of the most effective ways to control invasive species is by prevention—by simply becoming invasive-aware, you can help to control some of these issues. Recreationalists such as boaters, fishermen, pet owners, gardeners, hikers and travelers can unknowingly spread invasive species. You can take some of the following steps to avoid this dispersal:
- Cleaning and draining your boat, gear, and trailer between water bodies can stop the spread of species that may be hitchhiking on your equipment.
- If you have a pet that you are unable to keep, it is important to not release it into the wild, which can cause more harm than good to your pet and the native wildlife. Neither native nor exotic pets should ever be released. Follow the simple tips at http://www.habitattitude.net/ for alternatives to releasing your pet.
- When enjoying nature while biking, hiking, camping, birding, or other activities, be aware of the habitat where you are trekking and check what might have attached to your clothing to make sure you do not end up being an unwitting disperser.
- Gardeners, even you can help—especially when dealing with non-native plant dispersal. Not all non-native plants are bad, but make sure that the plants you put in your garden are not harmful invaders that can make it into natural areas. Verify that your plants do not occur on the invasive plant list, which can be found at http://www.fleppc.org/.
There are many ways to get involved in the battle against invasive species. Six Rivers Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMA) is providing education and awareness for National Invasive Species Awareness Week from March 1st-9th. For more information about this awareness initiative, please visit http://www.nisaw.org/. Landowners can join their local CISMA group at http://www.floridainvasives.org/. For more information on local invasive species, contact your UF/IFAS extension office at www.solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu. Follow our posts and articles this week at https://nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu/nat/.
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