Monday, April 14, 2008

Week of April 13, 2008

Updated April 18

Muskrat population declining significantly in Connecticut


The tall, feather-like reeds that have been crowding out native plants along the coastline are claiming another victim — the muskrat.

Wildlife biologists throughout the Northeast and eastern Canada say that they have observed significant declines in muskrat populations, and the culprit seems to be phragmites australis, also known as the common reed.

Paul Rego, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Environment Protection, said that muskrats — an aquatic rodent that resembles a small beaver — have been in steep decline since the 1990s.

"The most widely accepted reason for this has been a change in wetland vegetation," Rego said. "The cattails — their principal source of food — have been replaced by phragmites and also by the purple loose-strife."

Rego said that muskrats have no use for either of these invasive plants. "Cattails are an important source of food for muskrats," he said, noting the muskrat population drop was discovered after analyzing the records of fur trappers. About 400trapping licenses are issued annually in Connecticut.

Muskrats also use cattails to make their nests.

According to the DEP, about 24,000 muskrat pelts were harvested in 1984. In recent years, the number is about 4,000 or less. This decline has corresponded closely with the spread of phragmites, which creates a plant "monoculture" once it invades a marsh, biologists say.

"Phragmites had definitely expanded its range in the last couple of decades," said Todd Mervosh, a weed scientist with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station's Windsor office. "It's a very aggressive plant — it's tall — other plants can't get sunlight," Mervosh said. "And it spreads through rhizomes — they look like roots but actually they're underground branches that spread out 20 feet or more."

He said that phragmites can only be effectively controlled with herbicides, and that there are only a few companies in the Northeast with the training and equipment to do this work in the marshes where the weed grows.

Rego said that there are three other hypotheses being considered, none of which have gained much traction in the scientific community.

The first of these includes the so-called "succession" of marshland, in which it gradually changes from an "open marsh," with mostly grass-like plants, to a "closed marsh" with more trees.

Another has to do with an increase in predators, such as owls, hawks and mink. The third involves the gradual improvement of water quality in the last 40 years, which has, paradoxically, led to a reduction in marsh plant life because cleaner water doesn't have as many organic nutrients.

Rego said that the DEP has studied muskrats in the Quinnipiac River Marsh Wildlife Area — bounded by New Haven, Hamden and North Haven — most extensively. But, he said, it's likely that similar declines have taken place in the marsh at the mouth of the Housatonic River — the Charles E. Wheeler Wildlife Area — and other marshy sites between New Haven and Greenwich.

Rego said that phragmites involve two different plants that have a similar appearance. The invasive variety can be traced to a reed that originated in Europe.

"There is actually a domestic version of the plant which isn't nearly as bad," he said.

Mervosh said that the invasive phragmites are quite likely a hybrid of the native and European species. He doesn't see much letup in its advancement, either. "Unfortunately, it doesn't need a marsh — it can spread to upland areas, too." Full Article


New computer model for gypsy moths

The gypsy moth is an invasive species that destroys over a million acres of forest land every year. A new computer model may help land managers formulate more effective plans of attack against these destructive pests.

The model indicates that the best strategies for managing the moths include eradicating medium-density infestations and reducing high-density infestations, rather than reducing spreading from the main infestation.

"Most managers currently use the same strategy in all situations, but our model suggests that by tailoring their approach to a particular situation, managers can be more effective in slowing the spread of invasive species," said Katriona Shea, a biologist at Pennsylvania State University who helped design the model.

The model will be detailed the April 2008 issue of the journal Ecological Applications.

-- LiveScience Staff Link


New invasive aquatic plant position available in the Adirondack Park, New York

The Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, one of NY's eight Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management, is thrilled to announce the availability of a new position - Adirondack Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator (AISC). The AISC will join the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP) Director and Terrestrial Invasive Species Coordinator and assist the development and implementation of invasive species programs in the Adirondack region.

The AISC's primary role will be to build upon APIPP's early detection and monitoring programs for aquatic invasives and to coordinate partners working on aquatic invasive species issues (a full job description is attached).

APIPP is a partnership program, hosted by the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and recently funded by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, involving more than 30 cooperating organizations and hundreds of volunteers working to protect the Adirondack region from the harmful impacts of non-native invasive species.

This is an excellent opportunity for a motivated individual to work in a creative, team-oriented environment on an important and high profile conservation issue. Please send a letter of interest, resume, and names and contact information for three references by Monday, May 5 to Hilary Oles, PO Box 65, Keene Valley, NY 12943 or A start date of early to mid June is desired.


Biologist to seek elusive mollusks in Winsted's Highland Lake


WINSTED, CONNECTICUT — Biologist Ethan Nedeau believes the elusive and nearly endangered Eastern pondmussel lurks in Highland Lake, and he soon will arrive to hunt it down. This state-listed "species of special concern" may complicate efforts to control invasive weeds that threaten water quality in the lake, which in turn supports home values where the greatest concentration of wealth (and tax dollars) are found here.

A suspicion that the mussel known to scientists as Ligumia nasuta might lurk in the depths delayed a state permit last year to continue four years of annual herbicide application. The Department of Environmental Protection finally agreed in July to allow the $14,950 application of Diquat, a herbicide used to kill invasive milfoil weeds, in exchange for the town's agreement to investigate the mussel population.

Nedeau is expected to arrive in May, don scuba gear and explore the lake bottom to document the population and distribution of Eastern pondmussels. His services are expected to cost up to $2,000, which will come from the town budget for lake water quality maintenance. Article


Georgia opens invasive species center

By Brad Haire, University of Georgia

University of Georgia experts have opened a new center in Tifton, Ga., to limit the spread of invasive species and understand their impact on native plants. They hope to teach others how to do the same.

The UGA Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health will pool the resources and expertise found in the university’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, said Dave Moorhead, a UGA professor of silviculture and the center’s co-director.

“Our strengths will be creating educational materials, partnering with others on the university level and creating outreach programs,” he said.

The center will be located on the UGA Tifton campus, he said, but its focus will include invasive and ecosystem health threats found around the Southeast, the country and even the world. Center co-director Keith Douce, a CAES entomologist, is in Europe teaching and learning about invasive species that could potentially cause problems here.

“With global trade, now more than ever, the possibility of invasive species being introduced from any part of the world is high,” Moorhead said.

An invasive species is one that is introduced either by accident or on purpose to an area where it hasn’t been in the past. At first, the species may go unnoticed, he said. But if a population is allowed to grow, it can out compete and dominate native species and cause major health problems for the ecosystem. Invasive species cause $100 million in damage annually in the U.S.

Georgia has many unwanted guests like privet and kudzu, a notorious, rapidly spreading vine of Southern legend. But other unwanted guests are now starting to wear out their welcome, too.
Honeysuckle, Japanese climbing fern and the vine Oriental bittersweet are stalking their way through Georgia forests. And cogongrass, an aggressive grass that can choke out native flora, has caused major problems in Florida and Mississippi. It now has a foothold in Georgia.

The Midwest and western states have problems with invasive species, too. Getting land managers on the same page there to control invasive species is a bit easier because a lot of the land is publicly owned, Moorhead said.

It’s different in the eastern U.S., where much of the land is privately owned, he said. “It’s more difficult to get a widespread program and get the word out in this area that invasives are starting to pose problems.”

The center evolved from the Bugwood Network, a UGA Web-based system used to collect, promote and distribute educational materials in entomology, forestry and natural resources. Article


Invasive Species Task Force seasonal crew needed, Town of Lincoln, MA

2 Seasonal, Full Time Positions

Skill Level: Internship / Volunteer

Project Goals and Background Information: This is a project funded by the Lincoln Community Preservation Committee project for purposes of protecting the ecological integrity of the landscape.

Job Description: Crew members will be involved in conservation restoration projects. Duties will include removal of invasive species from conservation land using hand and power tools, and replanting with native species where appropriate. The invasive species to be focused on include bittersweet, buckthorn, garlic mustard, honeysuckle, phragmites, and black swallow-wort. Crew members will also census hemlock trees to determine the extent of the hemlock woolly adelgid infestation. Duties include taking inventory of various measurements, estimating health, and mapping results. Crew members will assist in the propagation of Galerucella beetles for purple loosestrife control.

Qualifications: Possess New England flora identification skills, ability to recognize various invasive species, ability to use various hand and power tools, ability to perform physically demanding tasks, ability and willingness to work in all New England summer weather conditions and tolerate ticks, poison ivy, mosquitoes, chiggers, hornets, etc., ability to work both independently and in cooperation with others, and possess valid driver's license. GPS/GIS experience beneficial.

Job duration: 10 weeks beginning in May or early June

Salary: $12 - $14 per hour depending upon experience

Contact Information: Tom Gumbart 781-259-2612 (phone)


Asian longhorned beetle eradicated in Illinois

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Asian longhorned beetle, a tree-killing pest, has been eradicated in Illinois, U.S., state and local officials said on Thursday.

Illinois is the first state to declare success against the insect. The beetle was discovered in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago in 1998. There have been no signs of the invasive pest in four years.

Between 1998 and 2006, approximately 1,771 trees were removed to destroy the invasive insect in Chicago. Chemical treatments also were used against the beetle.

USDA currently is working with its state and local government partners to eradicate ALB in parts of New York and in central New Jersey.

The Asian longhorned beetle is about 1.5 inches long and shiny black with antenna up to twice the length of their bodies, banded in black and white. It favors maple, birch, elm and poplar trees, among others, as its hosts. Article


Rutgers Coop Extension hosts invasive plant talk on May 8

NEWTON, NJ — Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Sussex County will present its spring forest management series by hosting Dr. Mark Vodak, forestry specialist at Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, on Thursday, May 8 at 7 p.m. at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Office, 129 Morris Turnpike in Newton.

Vodak will present “Are Invasive Plants a Problem in my Woodlot?” He will describe why invasive plants are of concern in woodlot management, what species are of most concern and what management strategies are recommended for their control.

Contact Rutgers Cooperative Extension at 973-948-3040 to pre-register. Admission is free.


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