National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) – February 22-28, 2015

NISAW 2015Many plants and animals have been introduced to new regions for centuries, as people have discovered new lands.  These transient species are known as non-natives, and can become invasive. Invasive species occur throughout the world and may blend in, be nondescript or highly attractive; they can be plant or animal; terrestrial or aquatic; they may resemble or remind the viewer of something familiar; they may be very good at adapting to our climate and conditions which is how many invasive species get their foothold in an area.  And because they have not evolved alongside our native species, when introduced to areas lacking their natural predators, they can adapt and take off.

 

Conditions in the SE US are ripe for many invasive contenders.  Some species have been intentionally introduced and other species have been accidentally introduced. Some common invasive species include red imported fire ants, Kudzu, Privet, Chinese tallow, Japanese climbing fern, Chinaberry, and cogongrass, just to name a few on the tip of the iceberg.  These species are now out-of-control, and it is unlikely they will ever be eradicated from their new home.

In 2011 alone, the Department of the Interior spent more than $100 million on invasive species prevention, early detection and rapid response, control and management, research, outreach, international cooperation and habitat restoration in the US. (USFWS) This is a drop in the bucket when you consider in FY 1999-2000, nine Florida agencies spent $90.8 million on prevention, monitoring, control, and restoration efforts.  It is estimated that the annual cost of invasive plants, animals and diseases in losses to Florida’s agriculture is estimated at $179 million annually (www.defenders.org).

Much like a cancer can spread in the body, so too, when conditions are favorable can invasive species spread across the landscape.  Once established in the landscape eradication is expensive; ideally early monitoring is critical to understanding its movement and dispersal, coverage, and containment. Like cancers, early detection provides better opportunity to address the situation.  Within the landscape, an aggressive invasive can impact the entire ecosystem – causing a serious imbalance; followed by a cascade of impact via unforeseen collateral damage.

Take the newest aquatic threat of Lionfish.  The trophic impacts of lionfish could alter the structure of native reef fish communities and potentially hamper stock rebuilding efforts of the Snapper –Grouper Complex. Additional effects of the lionfish invasion are far-reaching and could increase coral reef ecosystem stress, threaten human health, and ultimately impact the marine aquarium industry. Control strategies for lionfish are needed to mitigate impacts.

Disturbances like new roads, land clearing, and tropical weather events (hurricanes) can all provide the opportunity for invasive species to get a foothold.  So, the next time you notice a plant or animal that you don’t recognize, take a picture and report it using the “I’ve Got One!” phone app or on-line to The Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS.org). You can also report to  the nearest Extension Agent.

A good way to learn how to identify and control some of our common invasives is to join a volunteer workday at a park near you sponsored by the Six Rivers Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA) or the Florida Native Plant Society.

GUEST AUTHOR:  Barbara Albrecht, Director of Panhandle Watershed Alliance, member is the Six Rivers Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area.

Invasive Species of the Day (March 3rd): Wild Hogs & Lion Fish

March 3rd: Wild Hogs (Sus scrofa) & Lionfish (Pterois volitans):

 

The impact of wild hogs on the environment is soil erosion, decreased water quality, spread of other invasive plants, damage to agricultural crops, and damage to native plants and animals. Photo by Jennifer Bearden

The impact of wild hogs on the environment is soil erosion, decreased water quality, spread of other invasive plants, damage to agricultural crops, and damage to native plants and animals. Photo by Jennifer Bearden

Wild Hogs: Wild Hogs, also called Feral Hogs, are not native to the U.S.  Domesticated pigs were introduced by early settlers because they could adapt to a wide variety of habitats.  These pigs were kept on open ranges and used as a food source for settlers and Native Americans.  In the early 1900’s, true Eurasian wild boars were introduced for hunting purposes.  The population of wild hogs today are hybrids of Eurasian and domestic pigs.

Wild hogs are highly adaptable and can find suitable habitat easily.  Wild hogs can be all shapes, sizes and colors since they are hybrids of many different breeds.   Wild hogs sometimes resemble their domestic relatives but sometimes resemble their Eurasian backgrounds.

Wild hogs are probably the most prolific large mammals in the world.  They reach sexual maturity at a young age.  Females have multiple litters of 3-8 piglets per year.  Natural mortality rates are low.  Wild hog females and young live and travel in groups called sounders.  Sounders typically have 1 to 3 adults and several young.  When females reach maturity, they either stay with the sounder or they go out and form a new sounder with other young females.  Young males leave the sounder alone at about 16 months.

Wild hogs are opportunistic omnivores that feed by rooting and grazing.  This rooting behavior is why we consider them to beHog Poster a pest.  The impact of wild hogs on the environment is soil erosion, decreased water quality, spread of other invasive plants, damage to agricultural crops, and damage to native plants and animals.  They have been documented as threats to threatened and endangered species.  They can significantly impact populations of reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, ground nesting birds and even deer.

Wild hogs pose a health risk to humans because they can carry numerous diseases and parasites.  Care should be taken when handling wild hogs.  Wear gloves, cover any open wounds, and wear clothing that can be cleaned thoroughly. Human hunting is the most significant cause of mortality in wild hogs, although hunting alone will not control hog populations in a good habitat.  The most effective way to remove wild hogs from a location is a combination of trapping and shooting.

In Florida, wild hogs may be hunted year round on private land (with permission of the landowner) and at night with no permit required.  Hogs may be trapped year round.  Wild hogs cannot be trapped and released onto public land.  Trapped wild hogs can only be transported with a permit from FDACS) to slaughter or to an approved Feral Swine Holding Facility.  For more information on Wild Hogs, go to:  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw322 and http://www.myfwc.com/hunting/by-species/wild-hog/.  For more information on Wild Hogs, go to:  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw322

feral hog pop up banner

For more information contact the author Jennifer Bearden, Agriculture Extension Agent, 850-689-5850.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Florida Sea Grant

Photo courtesy of Florida Sea Grant

Lionfish: The Red Lionfish are a predatory reef fish that are non-native invasive species and have spread throughout Florida Waters.  They are members of the family Scorpaenidae, all members are venomous and the lionfish is no exception.  This fish is relatively small typically ranging from 12-15 inches in length and have a zebra-like appearance with long, showy pectoral fins.  They have a row of long, dorsal spines that contain venom glands.  Their native range is the South Pacific and Indian Oceans and preferred habitat is on offshore reef structures.  These fish are considered to be voracious eaters feeding on native fish, reducing vital native populations, and competing for food with native fish such as grouper and snapper.

With few predators, these fish are thriving in Florida waters, even in the northern Gulf of Mexico.  They reproduce often, sometimes all year, with their eggs hatching after about two days.  They also consume a variety of local species, causing 80% decline in reef fish recruitment and loss of some economically important species.  These fish are able to expand their stomachs for large meals and can survive starvation for over 12 weeks. These fish are an invasive species in our local waters and removal is encouraged.  The most effective control of this species is removal by human.  These fish are cryptic and nocturnal so locating them can be tricky.  Spearfishing is the method of choice, since lionfish rarely bite a hook and line.  Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) changed regulations to increase harvesting opportunities.  Such changes include no requirement for a recreational fishing license when using spearing devices (pole spear, a Hawaiian Sling, handheld net, or spearing devices marked for use on lionfish), and no recreational or commercial bag limit, though recreational fishing license is required for other fishing methods.  Check the FWC regulations before fishing or diving for these species.

Lionfish are venomous, must be handled carefully, venom glands occur on the dorsal, pelvic and anal spines.  Lionfish sightings should be reported at 877.786.7267, if stung seek medical attention as soon as possible.  Rarely are stings fatal unless the person has an allergy to the venom.  The Poison Help Hotline can be reached at 800.222.1222.  Sighting information is being collected to track the movement of these species.  Fill out the online report on the USGS website or the REEF website.  Stay up to date on research as it pertains to this species at www.flseagrant.org.  For locals you can report sighting also at www.lionfishmap.org.

For more information contact the author Brooke Saari, Sea Grant Marine Science Extension Agent, 850-689-5850.

2013 Lionfish Summit; update on FWC meeting in Cocoa Beach

2013 Lionfish Summit; update on FWC meeting in Cocoa Beach

It seems everyone in the Panhandle is talking about the invasive lionfish. This non-native member of the scorpionfish family was first seen in U.S. waters in 1989 near Ft. Lauderdale.  Over the last two decades, much has been learned about the biology and potential impacts of lionfish in our waters; For additional background information you can read more at these websites http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/marine-species/lionfish and http://escambia.ifas.ufl.edu/marine/2012/08/17/the-invasion-of-the-lionfish

This past October, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission held the first state lionfish summit in Cocoa Beach.  Researchers, fishery managers, divers, fishermen, and the general public received research updates, discussed current issues, and provided input regarding future management needs.  Here are a few of the interesting highlights from the summit.

Red Lionfish  Photo: Florida Sea Grant

Red Lionfish
Photo: Florida Sea Grant

What are the potential problems?

  • Several theories on how lionfish were initial released into state waters have been suggested. However, research results now indicate a single introduction of lionfish in Florida initiated the invasion into the Western Atlantic presumably from just a few aquarium specimens.
  • Sixty-thousand lionfish continue to be imported into the state each year.
  • Compared to native Pacific population, Florida densities of lionfish are much higher; 400 fish/hectare in Florida compared to 80 fish/hectare in the Pacific. On average, invasive Atlantic Lionfish individuals are larger than the native populations in the Pacific basin.
  • Studies from Pensacola showed that lionfish population has doubled annually since 2010 and lionfish densities are highest on artificial reefs.
  •  Invasive lionfish have no natural predators and may spawn 30,000 – 40,000 eggs every 2 to 4 days.
  • Another potential problem reported are records of lionfish entering the Loxahatchee and Indian Rivers; indicating that they are able to move into brackish water.

What are the negative impacts?

Young lionfish feed primarily on crustaceans and when they are older they prey on reef fish. Research and stomach analysis indicate 70 different reef fish species as potential prey. Lobster fishermen in the Keys found lionfish are the leading by-catch species and have reduced lobster harvest by as much as 50%.  Another study indicates lionfish on natural reefs they prefer blennies. However, on artificial reefs they feed on small snappers, sea bass, and groupers.  Finally, an interesting study compared primary reef predators. Reefs with only grouper there was a 36% decrease of juvenile fish while reefs with lionfish the decrease was 94%.

What can be done?

Several reports indicate that collecting tournaments are effective; Lad Akins of Reef Environmental Education Foundation (www.reef.org) reported a 69% reduction of lionfish from one event in Key Largo. Another study had similar results but indicated that some spear fishermen were more successful than others, suggesting training may be required to increase efficiency.

Other reports indicate that work where native fish were introduced and conditioned to consume lionfish have led these native predators to follow and even bite divers thinking that “free food” may be available; it was suggested that this idea not be pursued.

Locally, lionfish rodeos sponsored by Emerald Coast Reef Association  occur frequently in Okaloosa County. Escambia County Marine Resources hosted a pilot event this summer. Escambia will begin a full lionfish control program in 2014.  If you have questions or comments, please contact your local UF/IFAS natural resource or Sea Grant Extension Agent.

Please note: UF/IFAS and Florida Sea Grant does not organize volunteers to participate in local lionfish control events; this is done by independent community groups. UF/IFAS and Florida Sea Grant provides this information about food safety concerns associated with eating lionfish. Click here for more information.

Invasive Species of the Day Series (March 3rd): Tropical Soda Apple & Lionfish

National Invasive Species Awareness Week: March 3rd – March 8th

March 3rd: Tropical Soda Apple (Solanum viarum) & Lionfish (Pterois volitans):

Tropical Soda Apple Photo Credit: Jeffrey Mullahey, UF, Bugwood.org

Tropical Soda Apple Photo Credit: Jeffrey Mullahey, UF, Bugwood.org

Tropical Soda Apple: Florida ranchers know Tropical Soda Apple (TSA) as the “Plant from Hell.” It was first noticed in south Florida, but its seeds survive in the digestive tracts of animals and it spread north through the movement of hay and cattle. TSA plants are covered with thorns and can make large sections of pasture nearly useless for livestock. Concerted efforts to lessen the population of TSA since its arrival have reduced the populations in pastures but it persists in sheltered or waste locations. Cattle, birds, deer and feral hogs ingest the mature fruits and spread the plants to loafing and browsing areas that may be inaccessible to mechanical treatment with anything larger than a hoe. According to Dr. Jeff Mullahey,  who has been working on TSA since its appearance in south Florida, one plant can produce 40,000-50,000 seeds with seed germination ranging from 75%-100%. The seeds remain viable for at least three years. Be on the lookout for these while engaged in outdoor activities.

Isolated plants can be controlled by mechanical means. You won’t want to pull them up barehanded, though. Additional information and control methods are available at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw097, or contact your local Extension agent.

For more information contact the author Jed Dillard, Livestock & Forages Extension Agent by phone at 850-342-0187.

Lionfish: The Red Lionfish is a non-native invasive predatory reef fish that has spread throughout Florida waters.  Lionfish are members of the family Scorpaenidae; all members are venomous and the lionfish is no exception.  This fish is relatively small, typically ranging from 12-15 inches in length with a zebra-like appearance and long, showy pectoral fins.  They have a row of long, dorsal spines that contain venom glands.  Their native range is the South Pacific and Indian Oceans and preferred habitat is on offshore reef structures.  These fish are considered to be voracious eaters feeding on native fish, reducing vital native populations, and competing for food with native fish such as grouper and snapper.

Lionfish, Photo Credit: Rebekah D. Wallace, UGA, Bugwood.org

Lionfish, Photo Credit: Rebekah D. Wallace, UGA, Bugwood.org

With few predators, these fish are thriving in Florida waters, even in the northern Gulf of Mexico.  They reproduce often, sometimes all year, with their eggs hatching after about two days.  They also consume a variety of local species, causing 80% decline in reef fish recruitment and loss of some economically important species.  These fish are able to expand their stomachs for large meals and can survive starvation for over 12 weeks. These fish are an invasive species in our local waters and removal is encouraged.  The most effective control of this species is removal by human.  These fish are cryptic and nocturnal so locating them can be tricky.  Spearfishing is the method of choice, since lionfish rarely bite a hook and line.  Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) changed regulations to increase harvesting opportunities.  Such changes include no requirement for a recreational fishing license when using spearing devices (pole spear, a Hawaiian Sling, handheld net, or spearing devices marked for use on lionfish), and no recreational or commercial bag limit, though recreational fishing license is required for other fishing methods.  Check the FWC regulations before fishing or diving for these species.

Lionfish are venomous and must be handled carefully.  Venom glands occur on the dorsal, pelvic and anal spines.  Lionfish sightings should be reported at 877.786.7267.  If stung seek medical attention as soon as possible.  Rarely are stings fatal unless the person has an allergy to the venom.  The Poison Help Hotline can be reached at 800.222.1222.  Sighting information is being collected to track the movement of these species.  Fill out the online report on the USGS website or the REEF website.  Stay up to date on research as it pertains to this species at www.flseagrant.org.

For more information contact the author Brooke Saari, Sea Grant Marine Science Extension Agent, 850-689-5850

 

The Invasion of the Lionfish

The Invasion of the Lionfish

 

(Photo: Florida Sea Grant)

 

It is a song that has been played in our state time and again.  An exotic pet or plant is brought across our borders and either intentionally or accidentally released into the environment.  Tropical fish, exotic reptiles, and nonnative mammals escape and the next thing you know they are wandering the neighborhood.

In many cases these non-natives are just another part of the landscape but some species they become invasive and cause economic or environmental problems.  There are many examples of invasives in Florida; iguanas, fire ants, Chinese tallow, Japanese climbing fern, and most recently – Burmese pythons.  The states of Florida and Hawaii have the largest problems with these creatures thus they
have some of the toughest laws dealing with them; there is a $1000 fine for releasing in Florida.  These creatures find plenty of food, few predators, and warm temperatures year round.  It is no different in the Gulf of Mexico.  Many tropical fish released into our waters do not survive the winters or the high salinities, but conditions are great for the lionfish.

The lionfish is from the western Pacific and range from Micronesia to the southern shores of Japan. They are cryptic and nocturnal in habit so detection difficult.  They are found primarily on offshore reefs and feed on a variety of small fishes, shrimps, and crabs; they have few natural predators.

So how did they get here?

It is believed that the lionfish issue began with the aquarium trade.  The most popular explanation for their release is the destruction of housing during the heavy hurricane seasons.  The earliest record of a lionfish in Florida was in 1985 in the town of Dania.  The first records in the northern Gulf were in 2010 when lionfish were seen in Apalachicola and Pensacola.

Are they invasive?

The answer is yes.  These fish are voracious feeders consuming over 50 species of reef fishes, shrimps, crabs, and some accounts show them feeding on small spiny lobsters; many are economically important to us.

So what do we do about it?

The method of choice at the moment is removal by humans.  Lionfish do not typically bite a hook so the most effective method is spearfishing.  Many areas are hosting “Lionfish Rodeos” which reward divers for returning as many as possible.  A rodeo held in Destin during the summer of 2012 landed 81 lionfish in a single day. On August 3, 2012 the state of Florida issued an executive order that will allow spear fishermen to capture lionfish without a saltwater license and no bag limit.  This executive order will be effective for one year.  Some communities consume lionfish and their flavor rating is good.  However the FDA reported that lionfish live and feed on similar prey that many species of reef fish that develop ciguatera do.  Though there have been no confirmed reports of ciguatera in lionfish there is a risk.

You can read more on this article at http://escambia.ifas.ufl.edu/marine/2012/08/17/the-invasion-of-the-lionfish  or contact the Sea Grant agent at your local extension office.