People automatically assume the term invasive species is a bad thing. These plants and wildlife are not native to the area and can impact the ecosystem. Some may harm the environment, but others could help. Here’s how to determine the good, the bad, and the ugly.
What Are Invasive Species?
An invasive species is a human-introduced nonnative organism that expands beyond its natural habitat. They often harm the ecosystem they invade, grow and reproduce quickly, and spread aggressively.
Invasive species can be distributed unintentionally through the shipment of goods. Sometimes people have them as ornamental plants or release them as pets. Occasionally, they are purposely introduced to control native species considered pests.
Why Are Invasive Species Bad?
Invasive species can harm native wildlife. They may not have any natural predators or controls, allowing them to breed and spread, quickly taking over the area. Local animals haven’t evolved defenses against the invaders, which can decrease their population.
Here are a few other ways nonnatives can cause harm:
- Targeting native species
- Competing with local species for food
- Bringing in new diseases
- Reducing the reproduction of native organisms or killing their young
Invasive species harm the ecosystem as a whole. They can alter the food web by removing or replacing native nutritional sources. These organisms can also reduce the diversity of native wildlife. A range of plants and animals ensures the ecosystem is healthy, and each one has a unique role. Pollinators, such as bees, assist with crop production. Trees help the soil absorb rainwater to prevent flooding. Plus, invasive vegetation can change conditions, including soil chemistry.
How Can Invasive Species Be Good?
While these creatures can harm the environment, they have hidden benefits. Consider climate change, which is seen through the increase in global temperatures and more severe storms. The average surface temperature has risen about 0.17 F per decade since 1901, which has caused native wildlife to search for more hospitable habitats.
Plants rely on animals to disperse their seeds by eating or popping them out. Invasive species can take on this role in areas where native ones are dying out. This loss reduces the capacity of plants to track climate change by 60%. In addition, these nonnative habitats provide refuge for wildlife struggling to adapt.
Some nonnative organisms also help the current ecosystem function. For example, butterflies in California spend winters in the exotic eucalyptus tree. Also, in Spain, invasive catfish act as prey for migratory birds, some of which are endangered. Some invaders can also help remove harmful native species. Beetles can infest tamarisk trees, which consume lots of water and damage habitats.
Ways to Manage Invasive Species
Invasive species can provide some benefits, so it’s essential to figure out how to control them properly. The overspread of these organisms can cause problems. One method is brush cutting, which involves trimming back branches to access the tree’s trunks and roots.
Another thing to try is mulching. This entails grinding trees into finer materials for quick decomposition. Consider using a disc or drum mulcher and preventing trees from resprouting by grinding the stump. This process can slow the spread of invasive vegetation and keep it under control.
Another way to control invasive species is through biological prevention. This involves introducing the natural enemies of invasive organisms to help limit the infestation.
Here are a few other methods:
- Chemical: This method uses pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.
- Cultural: It involves selecting pest-resistant crops and education about best practices.
- Mechanical: This method includes techniques like mowing, tilling, chopping and constructing barriers.
- Physical: This includes hand-pulling, digging, flooding, mulching, and manual destruction or removal of nests.
The Complexity of Invasive Species
People often view the term invasive species as a negative, and these plants and animals can indeed harm the native ecosystem. They compete for resources and decrease the overall native population.
On the other hand, climate change poses an issue, so nonnative creatures may offer a solution. They can disperse plant seeds and provide habitats. Sometimes it’s necessary to take the bad with the good, and dealing with invasive species involves toeing a very fine line.
Jane is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co and an environmental writer covering green technology, sustainability and environmental news.