In the eye of the invasive species storm

17th September 2014-  Last weekend I experienced first-hand the impacts that invasive species can have. While carrying out research on an infestation of Opuntia Stricta in Laikipia, I felt something lodge itself in my eye. The following day I visited a specialist, as efforts to wash the thorn out of my eye had been unsuccessful.

They found that one of the very fine thorns, which are found on the fruit of the cactus, had become trapped in my eyelid and was scraping along the cornea. According to the specialist, another two days with the thorn in my eye would have resulted in me developing a corneal ulcer; which could have cost me my sight in that eye.

The thorns of Opuntia Stricta fruit are incredibly fine. So fine that the specialist was only able to detect it using microscopy equipment and dye. As well as being an unpleasant experience, this incident highlights the serious implications for those who live in areas which are infested with Opuntia Stricta, where many people would be unable to afford to seek medical help should they experience the same thing.

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Opuntia Stricta can also have a significant negative impact on livestock. If they get thorns in their eyes, there is no way for the owner to remove them. This could potentially result in loss of sight. Equally, it is not uncommon for goats to feed on the Opuntia fruit where the same thorns damage the goat’s stomach. This has been linked to the death of many animals in areas where this weed is prevalent as well as overgrazing in uninfected areas which is putting strain on pastoral land in these areas (Dodd, 1940).

While invasive species are often perceived as a biodiversity threat, they have a very real impact on the livelihoods and health of those who live in the areas in which they infest.

 

 

New in August 2014 from the ISC

In August 2014 the following datasheets were published on CABI’s Invasive Species Compendium (ISC). You can explore the open-access ISC here: www.cabi.org/isc

Lepus europaeus (European hare) – the European hare has been widely introduced by humans from its original range in continental Europe and has successfully established populations in South Sweden, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and several Mediterranean and tropical islands. In its introduced range it can cause significant agricultural damage and compete or hybridise with native fauna. Conversely, populations have declined across much of its native range.

Lepus europaeus Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Lepus europaeus Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Myxobolus cerebralis (whirling disease agent) – this member of the parasitic myxozoan group causes whirling disease of salmon and trout, which causes fish to swim erratically, making feeding and avoiding predators difficult. M. cerebralis was first reported in Germany in the late 1890s, but, acting in cahoots with its invertebrate host, the sludge worm Tubifex tubifex, it has since spread throughout Europe. The international fish trade has helped it reach Africa, Lebanon, New Zealand and North America, where it may pose a risk to native fish species.

Ardisia crenata (coral berry) – native to east and southeast Asia, this evergreen shrub has introduced around the world and is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant. It invades forest margins and understory, where it can reduce light levels by 70%, thereby shading out native plants.

 

Other invasive species datasheets recently published include:

Alysicarpus vaginalis (alyce clover)

Caesalpinia pulcherrima (peacock flower)

Cortaderia jubata (purple pampas grass)

Juncus planifolius (broadleaf rush)

Lolium perenne (perennial ryegrass)

Melilotus albus (honey clover)

Mentha pulegium (pennyroyal)

Nasturtium microphyllum (one-row watercress)

Persicaria punctata (dotted smartweed)

CABI releases rust fungus to control invasive weed, Himalayan balsam

26 August 2014 – From today, not-for-profit research organization, CABI, will be releasing a rust fungus at locations in Berkshire, Cornwall and Middlesex as part of field trials to control the non-native, invasive weed Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) using natural means.

Himalayan balsam has rapidly become one of the UK’s most widespread invasive weeds, colonizing river banks, waste land, damp woodlands, roadways and railways. The Environment Agency estimates that the weed occupies over 13% of river banks in England and Wales. It can reach over three metres in height and competes with native plants, reducing biodiversity. Large scale chemical and manual control is often not feasible and not economically viable.

Himalayan balsam infestation on the river Torridge, Devon, UK

Himalayan balsam infestation on the river Torridge, Devon, UK (Rob Tanner, CABI)

Using existing measures, the Environment Agency estimates it would cost up to £300 million to eradicate Himalayan balsam from the UK.

The release of the rust fungus comes after an eight-year research programme funded primarily by Defra and the Environment Agency, with contributions from Network Rail, the Scottish Government and Westcountry Rivers Trust. During the course of the research, testing in quarantine laboratories has established that the rust fungus causes significant damage to Himalayan balsam and does not impact on native species.

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New in July 2014 from the ISC

In July 2014 the following datasheets were published on CABI’s Invasive Species Compendium (ISC). You can explore the open-access ISC here: www.cabi.org/isc

Senna multijuga (November shower) is a shrub or tree native to South America that has been introduced to tropical regions around the world. It is tolerant of a variety of soil types and its seeds are easily dispersed by wind and people. Despite its ability to naturalize quickly and its invasiveness in Hawaii, S. multijuga continues to be spread intentionally as an ornamental plant.

Senna multijuga Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Senna multijuga Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Abrus precatorius (rosary pea) is a high-climbing, twining or trailing woody vine from the Old World tropics. Although the plant has a wide variety of uses, from medicine, food and sweetener to jewellery, horticulture and even as a weighing unit, the seeds are so toxic that a single seed can kill a human. This vine is known to be invasive to Cuba and many parts of Asia-Pacific, and is naturalized in many tropical regions including Hawaii, parts of the Marquesas and Singapore.

Senna spectabilis (whitebark senna) – epithets range from ‘environmental weed’ to ‘garden thug’ for this resilient and fast-growing tree. Native to tropical America, S. spectabilis is considered invasive in Australia, Uganda, Tanzania, Hawaii, French Polynesia and Cuba. It can spread rapidly to create monocultures and place native flora at risk.

 

Other invasive species datasheets recently published include:

Senna surattensis (golden senna)

Senna bacillaris (whitebark senna)

New in April 2014 from the ISC

In April 2014 the following datasheets were published on CABI’s Invasive Species Compendium (ISC). You can explore the open-access ISC here: www.cabi.org/isc

Thunbergia alata (black eyed Susan) – Australia, Brazil, Central America and many Pacific islands are all threatened by this aggressive herbaceous vine. Once introduced into a suitable climate, often as an ornamental, it quickly establishes and spreads both sexually and vegetatively. T. alata is capable of smothering native vegetation, killing host trees, out-competing understory plants and negatively affecting the germination and establishment of native plants.

Thunbergia alata Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Thunbergia alata Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Indigofera hirsuta (hairy indigo) – native to Africa, Asia and Australia, this herbaceous legume has been widely introduced as a crop and forage plant. Its ability to adapt to a wide range of soil types, spread quickly and regenerate – even in burnt-out ground – has led it become invasive in many Pacific islands. It is also considered a weed in China, Brazil and parts of the USA.

Urochloa mutica (para grass) – U. mutica has been widely introduced to tropical and subtropical regions as a fodder grass. This species’ aggressive growth, high productivity and allelopathic abilities have allowed it to become one of the worst weeds in the USA, Mexico, Central America and Australia.

Other invasive species datasheets recently published include:

Allamanda cathartica (yellow allamanda)

Emilia fosbergii (Florida tassel-flower)

Zingiber zerumbet (shampoo ginger)

Nelsonia canescens (blue pussyleaf)

The XIV International Symposium on the Biological Control of Weeds, Kruger National Park, South Africa, March 2014

In March 156 delegates from 24 countries travelled to the Kruger National Park in South Africa to attend the XIV International Symposium on Biological Control of Weeds (ISBCW) which was held at the Nombolo Mdhuli situated in the Skukuza Camp (2 – 7 March 2014). This quadrennial international symposium is a prestigious conference which provides delegates with an opportunity to present novel research on all aspects of biological weed control, to reflect on past experiences and discuss the way forward for the discipline and – this goes without saying – to catch up with old friendships and forge new ones. Three years on from the previous symposium in Hawaii and timed to commemorate “100 years of weed biological control in South Africa” 1, the African continent hosted the meeting for the second time in its history (the first time being the IX ISBCW held in Stellenbosch, South Africa in 1996). However, perhaps partly because of the increasingly severe constraints on funding and failure to gain official approval from respective governments/organizations, which made it impossible for many people to attend, this year’s symposium saw lower delegate numbers than previous ones. Some of the traditional “strongholds” in weed biocontrol, i.e. Australia, USA and Canada were clearly underrepresented, while the high number of European participants reflected the rapidly increasing interest in weed biocontrol in this part of the world. Sadly, apart from the participants from South Africa, only one other African country (Kenya) was represented. Last, but not least, it was an important and positive feature of attendance at this symposium that up-and-coming, younger scientists from all over the world were very well represented and the presence, prominence and enthusiasm of the next generation of weed biocontrol scientists at the XIV ISBCW seems to bode well for the future of the discipline.

Nombolo Mdhuli Conference Centre, Skukuza Rest Camp, Kruger National Park

Nombolo Mdhuli Conference Centre, Skukuza Rest Camp, Kruger National Park. Host venue for the XIV International Symposium on the Biological Control of Weeds (Photo: Marion Seier)

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New in March 2014 from the ISC

In March 2014 the following datasheets were published on CABI’s Invasive Species Compendium (ISC). You can explore the open-access ISC here: www.cabi.org/isc

Bothriochloa pertusa (pitted beard grass) - B. pertusa is a perennial grass native to eastern and southern Asia. It has been widely introduced in the Americas, Australia and the Pacific, either accidentally or probably in some cases deliberately for use as a forage grass. It has established itself in many native habitats where it is able to out-compete many native species due to its ability to establish dense mats and shade out slower establishing species.

Bothriochloa pertusa Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Bothriochloa pertusa Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

 

Portunus segnis (blue swimming crab) – P. segnis is a marine nocturnal crab native to the western Indian Ocean. It is now considered established in the Mediterranean but invasive in the east and potentially invasive in the central and western Mediterranean. It is an active predator, tolerant to a wide range of temperatures and salinities and capable of reproducing throughout the year, with long-lived planktonic larval stages. Global warming is also expected to favour this tropical species.

Xanthium spinosum (bathurst burr) – X. spinosum is a highly invasive plant classified as one of the world’s worst weeds. It is now widely distributed throughout many regions of the world, where it is a common agricultural and pasture weed and a declared noxious species in many countries. Originating in South America, it has spread widely, probably via its spiked seeds which attach to animals and clothing or are a contaminant of hay or other products. It produces prolific amounts of seed that germinate easily. X. spinosum can quickly dominate large areas, outcompeting crops, forage plants and native flora. Control is possible but requires significant effort. There is considerable ongoing research into various methods including biological control.

 

Other invasive species datasheets recently published include:

Anredera cordifolia (Madeira vine)

Anthoxanthum odoratum (sweet vernal grass)

Opuntia monocantha (common prickly pear)

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