Species Invaders (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Species Invaders

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:32:56
The D.C. region is more than just a global gathering place for people. There are creatures here from all over the world, too.

MR. ROB SACHS

13:33:02
But that kind of globalization isn't necessarily a good thing. WAMU environmental reporter, Sabri Ben-Achour, has more on our area's international natural world.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

13:33:12
Biologist Jonathan McKnight's office is piled high with files and reports and a monstrous looking dead rodent staring down from a shelf.

MR. JONATHAN MCKNIGHT

13:33:21
This guy here is the Nutria. This is a 20 pound on average swamp rat that was introduced from South America because everybody thought, wouldn't it be great to have a whole new animal that we could make fur coats out of?

BEN-ACHOUR

13:33:37
McKnight is in charge of fighting invasive species with Maryland's department of natural resources. He says the Nutria, with its long orange teeth feet, is an existential threat to our region's marshes.

MCKNIGHT

13:33:48
These guys didn't just graze upon that ecosystem in those marsh grasses, they actually ate it whole. They would leave a mud flap behind where there was a healthy productive marsh.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:33:59
That's what evasive species does. Without any predators or parasites to stop it, it just runs amuck. It drives other life forms out. McKnight says it just messes up the natural balance.

MCKNIGHT

13:34:09
It doesn't play by the rules that have allowed all the other species to find a happy home.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:34:15
And sometimes in weird ways. The Asian bush honeysuckle has lower branches than native bushes so birds who nest there are more susceptible to predators. North African wood wasps carry fungus that kills forests and that's just two of the ones that are here or close by. I mean, there's the snake head...

MCKNIGHT

13:34:31
The rusty crayfish.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:34:33
Ashbore.

MCKNIGHT

13:34:34
The chestnut (word?) .

BEN-ACHOUR

13:34:35
The fire ant.

MCKNIGHT

13:34:36
Our invasive species come from all over the globe. And in fact, it's the acceleration of the global economy and moving things at high speeds all over the world that's really accelerated the introduction of new species. We have a tremendous amount of species from Asia. Similar latitudes in other places so they've got a climate that they can roughly adapt to.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:35:01
But as McKnight points out, not every foreign creature is invasive.

MCKNIGHT

13:35:06
Many of the things that we have in our gardens, most of the things that our entire agricultural system is based upon are, in fact, in almost all cases, not native organisms.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:35:15
So apples, they're originally from Tajikistan. Or cows, they're originally from Europe and India.

MCKNIGHT

13:35:22
Cows are really -- they're scenic and delicious. They're not moving into an ecosystem and damaging it.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:35:29
But invasive are different.

MCKNIGHT

13:35:31
In most cases, an invasive species that is able to get into the environment and do well there is a lost cause.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:35:39
As we talk, McKnight holds up a small jar with wavy striped shells in it.

MCKNIGHT

13:35:43
The Zebra mussel.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:35:44
30 years ago, these little guys hitchhiked from Russia in the ballast wall of ships and landed in the Great Lakes. Now, they're in the Susquehanna River in Maryland. They multiply and stick to everything.

MCKNIGHT

13:35:55
I've seen things like boat cooling water intakes just choked with these things. They'll attach themselves to any hard surface and in fact, in some cases, a live animal, like a crayfish or something like that.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:36:08
The Zebra mussels even host diseases that can be transmitted to birds. The U.S. fish and wildlife service estimates the mussels will cost the country $5 billion over ten years.

MCKNIGHT

13:36:18
It's actually a tremendous economic threat.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:36:20
And in a sense, some invasives are undoing evolution. They threaten to wipe out speciation and diversity that took hundreds of millions of years to create.

MCKNIGHT

13:36:29
I think that the trend is towards fewer species dominating larger and larger areas of landscape. And some ecologists have even talked about entering a new global era called the Homogocene, where there's a homoginazation of natural communities and ecosystems and species from all over the world.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:36:51
In some cases, sometimes the genie can be put back in the bottle. For instance, McKnight says Maryland could irradiate the Nutria, that's that rat that threatens to devour the economic basis of the Chesapeake Bay in the next five years.

MCKNIGHT

13:37:04
We're using satellite imagery, GPS locators, radio telemetry in combination with trapping of animals.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:37:12
It hasn’t been cheap. It's taken a decade so far and nearly $2 million a year to do it. The best strategy, he says, is preventing invasives, such as the Nutria, from ever getting here in the first place. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.

SACHS

13:37:28
And if you go to our website, metroconnection.org, you can find pictures of some of the critters mentioned in Sabri's story, along with links to see what's invading your neighborhood.

SHEIR

13:37:38
You can also see some of the things you can do to prevent these little guys or at least keep them under control.
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