Invasive Species Management

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One of Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge’s most important management responsibilities is to control invasive species that threaten its naturally balanced ecosystem.


Defining Invasive Species

An invasive species is an organism that invades a region with resulting negative effects on the local economy, environment, or public health. Invasive species disrupt the natural growth and survival of other species. The species that suffer under the growth of invasives are typically those that originated in and naturally belong to the region, known as native species. Invasive species often replace natives and can thus alter entire ecosystems, threatening local biodiversity and the sustainability of natural processes.

An invasive species often begins as an exotic species. An exotic species is an organism that has been introduced into an area where it does not naturally occur. An exotic species can become invasive soon after being established or it may take years for the right factors to fall into place to allow a species to expand its range and cause ecological disturbances. An exotic species is considered to have transitioned into an invasive after establishing a stable breeding population that doesn’t require human intervention.

Invasive species may also be natives. This kind of invasion occurs when a species is naturally found within an area, but ecological changes allow the species to rapidly spread beyond its usual boundaries. This may occur rapidly and result in other native species being compromised by the now invasive species overtaking habitat and resources. A common example of an invasive yet native species is poison ivy. Poison ivy may be native to an area, but it thrives among disturbance. Have you ever been walking a trail and seen this itch-inducing vine at the trailhead or along the sides of your path? Even trails can be a disturbed area where natural vegetation was removed, allowing poison ivy to thrive and expand. An example of a native invasive in parts of Southwest Florida and Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge is cabbage palm. The Florida state tree does not usually cause problems within its ecosystem. However, changes in natural water flow in areas like Florida Panther NWR have allowed cabbage palm to flourish in now dry land that was once too wet to support the species. Cabbage palm can spread and out-compete other vegetation for space, light, and resources.

All of these delineations can be tricky to remember and understand! What’s important to recall is that some introduced species damage the ecosystem they become established in, while others have no negative effect and may even be beneficial as a tool to manage habitat. The effect of introduced species on natural environments is debated continuously by scientists, governments, farmers, and others. Caution is required when planting or releasing exotic species in our natural systems because although not all introduced species are problematic, some can rapidly spread throughout extensive areas and create significant problems within ecosystems.
Invasive Species Management

When an invasive species is first introduced into a new area there may be a chance to eradicate it through rapid response action if the species is detected in time. If eradication is not possible then the species may be subject to control and management efforts. Regardless of whether the goal is total eradication or control, there are a suite of options to consider depending upon the species. When making decisions on which options to use, the refuge applies an Integrated Pest Management approach to choose which will be the most environmentally sound yet effective method for reducing the spread and impacts of the invasive species as much as possible.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Integrated Pest Management is a comprehensive, environmentally sensitive approach to managing pests that includes a combination of strategies that pose the least hazard to people, property, and the environment. The simple philosophy is that control will be more effective, and resistance will be less likely to build up, when a range of measures is deployed against a pest.
Learn more: http://www.fws.gov/contaminants/issues/IPM.cfm

For more information about invasive species management by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/invasives/index.html


Invasive Plant Control

At Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge the bulk of invasive vegetation control efforts fall under two categories: Chemical control and Physical/Mechanical control.

Chemical control involves a variety of pesticides (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, piscicides, etc.) Although chemical use can be very effective, it can also be very dangerous to other species or to the general ecosystem. Therefore, chemical control must be used in an environmentally sound manner. The key is to choose chemicals that are low-risk, effective, and can be applied when the pest is at its most vulnerable.

Physical or mechanical control for vegetation involves physically removing the invasive species or using barriers to prevent the spread of invasive species. This type of control also exists in the form of traps to capture invasive species, although this is commonly used for invasive insects or wildlife. Mowing or cutting is another example of physical control specifically for invasive plants.
Invasive Reptile Control

Report Sightings
If you encounter a Burmese python or other invasive reptile at Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge call the office at 239-657-8001 or call the invasive species reporting hotline at 1-888-IVE-GOT-1. You may also submit reports via www.IveGot1.org or the free “IveGot1” app for iPhone or Android. Please call to report sightings of any live pythons!

Python Response
Biologists at Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge are trained as python responders. The Python Patrol training program provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission teaches invasive reptile identification, methods for safe and humane capture, and how to properly report invasive reptile data. The goal of the program is to create a network of trained individuals throughout Florida who know how to identify invasive reptiles and how to report sightings, which will help with quick response when these reptiles are encountered.
To learn more about Python Patrol or to sign up for one of the free training programs visit: http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/python/python-patrol/


Learn To Identify Florida's Invasive Reptiles
Free online REDDy (Introduced Reptile Early Detection and Documentation) training is available through the University of Florida. This program, approximately 40 minutes in length, offers a certificate of training completion, identification handouts, and methods for reporting invasive reptiles: http://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/reddy.shtml


Safely and responsibly surrender unwanted exotic pets free of charge and with no penalties at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Pet Amnesty Days.
Learn more and find an event happening near you: http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/amnesty-program/