October 27th, 2015 by iisg_superadmin
May 26th, 2015 by iisg_superadmin
“Be A Hero” is now the primary invasive species awareness campaign in Illinois. Boaters, anglers, and divers have heard this message, but now the comprehensive campaign provides easy tips to help water gardeners, teachers and aquarium hobbyists curb the spread of aquatic invaders. Plus, Be A Hero also provides guidance to hunters, campers and hikers to prevent the spread of species that threaten habitats on land.
“The problem of invasive species in our Illinois waters and lands has never been worse than it is today,” said Paul Deizman, who leads forest management at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). “Unfortunately, without action, the problem of invasive species—which are displacing natural flora and fauna as well as interfering in land and water management, critical ecological processes and biodiversity—could become irreversible.
For example, many commercially-sold plants and animals pose a risk to Illinois habitats. In fact, plants like Brazilian elodea, often sold as anacharis, have already reached several Illinois lakes and ponds, where they often form mats that block sunlight needed by other species and hinder recreation. And more invaders lurk on the horizon.
To prevent their spread, Be A Hero—Release Zero™ introduces teachers, water gardeners, aquarium hobbyists, and others who buy and sell species to safe alternatives to releasing unwanted plants and animals.
In addition, Be A Hero—Transport Zero™ now also addresses the spread of terrestrial invaders with tips for hikers, campers, and hunters who may accidentally carry species to new habitats.
Be A Hero kicked off in 2013 with a media campaign encouraging recreational water users to take simple steps—remove, drain, and dry—after a day on the water. Be A Hero—Transport Zero™ messages have also been shared one-on-one at boat shows and fishing tournaments. An IISG survey of boat show attendees found that people who have heard these messages are more likely to take action to prevent the spread of invasive species.
“We have found that the Be A Hero message resonates with anglers and boaters as we talk with them at state fair and other venues,” said Kevin Irons, IDNR aquatic invasive species program manager, “Be A Hero is unique in efforts to raise awareness about this issue. It is a positive message.”
“This campaign is an important and significant outreach and marketing tool we absolutely need,” Deizman added. “It is great to have the three Be A Hero logos working together to make headway on the invasive species problem in Illinois.”
Be A Hero is a collaboration between IDNR and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG). “Now that we have launched the campaigns, we are looking for partners to help us get the word out,” said Pat Charlebois, IISG aquatic invasive species outreach coordinator. “We have graphics that your organization can use online, at public events and on promotional materials.”
May 14th, 2015 by iisg_superadmin
We’re continuing our celebration of Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Month with a few words from Cathy McGlynn, coordinator of the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership, on how invasive species have changed our aquatic ecosystems.
I am your local co-coordinator of the Clean Boats Crew, an aquatic invasive species education and outreach campaign that is a collaboration of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership. My colleagues and I care very much about protecting aquatic ecosystems, and we know the value of prevention when it comes to invasion.
I haven’t always lived in the Chicago region. Once upon a time, I was a field biologist who lived in the Hudson River Valley and spent countless summer days canoeing to my research sites in the morning mist on the majestic Hudson River while being very careful to avoid tugboats and their wakes. I surveyed marsh birds and small mammals to see how invasive plants were impacting them. It turned out that native birds with special requirements, such as the marsh wren, were losing their nesting habitat to the invasive common reed. In between sites, I battled my way through beds of water chestnut, an aquatic invasive plant that has not yet been found in the Chicago area. I helped to survey and monitor native aquatic plants on the river with a team of volunteer kayakers because these plants provide important habitat for young fish, crabs, and insects and needed to be tracked. I was always careful not to walk around barefoot on the river’s beaches to avoid cutting my feet on zebra mussel shells or stepping on the barbed fruits of the water chestnut. During the time before I moved to this region, rock snot and Chinese mitten crab were starting to threaten the Hudson River and its wetlands.
After writing all of this, I realize that I don’t know a time, in my life anyway, that invasive plants and animals weren’t arriving and changing the Hudson River ecosystem.
Based on what I have learned in the five years I have been living near Lake Michigan, it seems that a similar history has unfolded for this amazing water body. I often wonder what it would be like if all invasions were prevented or ended upon arrival. I imagine a completely successful aquatic invasive species education and outreach program. The perfectly-executed Clean Boats Crew with 100 percent support from everyone with whom we’ve ever interacted and all the people with whom those anglers, boaters, and recreational water users communicated.
I imagine what Lake Michigan would look like and what creatures would be found there. I imagine a lake that does not have waters which have been filtered clean by zebra and quagga mussels and are clear and blue like the Caribbean. Rather I picture darker, murkier waters that contain all the tiny plants and animals that make up the phytoplankton and zooplankton that feed native fish and mussels.
In this imaginary world, no one in the entire Great Lakes region is worried about the arrival of Asian carp and the lamprey eel has stayed in the Atlantic Ocean. Viral hemorrhagic septicemia is not found in any fish throughout the lake. And round goby has never out-competed sculpin and logperch. Anglers happily fish native and non-invasive stocked fish and boaters readily remove plants and animals from their boats, drain their bilges and bait buckets, and dry their vehicles for five days because that is what needs to be done to protect our precious aquatic resources.
I imagine people stopping by our Clean Boats Crew booths at marinas and fishing tournaments in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana. Fortunately, that at least can become reality later this month.
May 7th, 2015 by iisg_superadmin
INVASIVE SPECIES EDITION—Where we take a moment to explore the species that threaten the Great Lakes region.
They may not be what comes to mind when you think of invasive carp, but grass carp can have drastic and lasting impacts on aquatic ecosystems and water quality. Originally from eastern Asia, they have been introduced the world over as a biocontrol for aquatic weeds and can now be found in over 70 countries.
This wide range is made possible by their versatility—not unlike the hydrilla they are sometimes employed to eliminate. Grass carp can live in water temperatures from below freezing to over 100ºF, can survive in brackish waters, and are able to tolerate low-oxygen environments.
While they live mostly in slow moving and still waters, eggs are spawned in fast rivers, and must remain suspended for two to four days before they hatch. From there, grass carp grow quickly—as much as 10 inches in the first three months. An adult can grow to be upwards of 4 feet in length and more than 50 pounds on a diet of mostly aquatic weeds. But they have also been known to consume detritus, insects, and other invertebrates as well.
Grass carp were first brought to the U.S. in 1963 when they were imported from Malaysia and Thailand to aquaculture facilities in Alabama and Arkansas. Their first release into the wild is believed to have happened three years later when some escaped from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fish Farming Experimental Station in Stuttgart, Arkansas. Planned introductions began in 1969 in an effort to control nuisance plants. By the end of the 1970s, grass carp had been introduced in 40 states. Today it can be found in 45 states, with well-established populations throughout the Mississippi River Basin.
Grass carp are a highly regulated species, and for good reason. Because they are so adept at consuming plants, there is a risk that these veritable aquatic lawnmowers might leave a waterbody completely devoid of plant life and wipe out the food supply for other fish, insects, and waterfowl. A lack of plant life can also spur on algal blooms, which in turn lower oxygen levels. And without roots to keep sediment secure, the water is likely to become muddied, and spawning beds for other fish can be destroyed.
Because of these and other risks, grass carp used for weed control are sterilized by shocking the eggs with drastic changes in either temperature or pressure. But this process is not 100 percent effective, and fish sometimes escape into the wild. In some states, including Illinois, the use of grass carp is restricted to private ponds or pools. Those thinking about using the fish for personal use are encouraged to explore other weed-control options.
April 27th, 2015 by iisg_superadmin
INVASIVE SPECIES EDITION—Where we take a moment to explore the species that threaten the Great Lakes region.
What was originally seen as a decorative and easy-to-maintain aquarium plant is now one of the most noxious weeds in the U.S. Sold under the name “Indian star-vine” in the late 1950s, Hydrilla verticillata was first introduced after live samples were shipped from Sri Lanka to a Florida aquarium dealer. More than half a century after careless disposal into Florida’s waterways, hydrilla can now be found throughout the south and along the east coast, with populations extending inland to the Great Lakes region. Isolated communities have also been found in Idaho and Washington.
This spread is not surprising since hydrilla is unusually hardy and versatile. It can grow in as little as a few inches of water or as much as 20 feet. It requires very little light to thrive and is just as happy in a nutrient-rich environment as one deprived of nutrients almost all together. It can even grow in slightly salty conditions or in water as hot as 81°F. And while it can spread through seeds, hydrilla is also able to grow from stem fragments as well as tubers that can lie dormant for up to four years. Taken together, it’s little wonder that this perennial is found on every continent except Antarctica.
Hydrilla’s unique biological characteristics give it a leg up over many native plants in the Great Lakes region. For example, its early sprouting season and ability to grow rapidly leaves less light for natives later in the spring, making it harder for them to grow once they begin to sprout.
These same characteristics also make it a nuisance to other aquatic wildlife and humans. Growing as long as 30 feet, hydrilla vines form dense mats that alter the water’s pH and oxygen levels, which in turn makes it difficult for some fish species to reproduce and grow. These mats can also impede irrigation, hinder recreation, and clog water intakes to power plants.
Efforts to contain hydrilla have been historically cautious out of fear that the robust plant may mutate or develop a resistance to chemical herbicides—a fear that was realized when fluridine-resistant hydrilla was found in Florida. Today the Asian hydrilla leaf mining fly, weevils, and even the invasive grass carp are used to manage hydrilla invasions. These and other methods cost states millions of dollars a year.
In recent years, Illinois and Indiana have banned the sale, barter, and transport of hydrilla. Water gardeners, aquarium hobbyists, and others can learn how to recognize the plant—and distinguish it from the invasive Brazilian elodea—with our species WATCH card.
We’ll have more species spotlights on aquatic invaders throughout May in honor of Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Week.
April 14th, 2015 by iisg_superadmin
The Wonder Lake Master Property Owners Association is reminding boaters, anglers, and water skiers to remove, drain, and dry after a day on the water to prevent the spread of invasive species. These Be a Hero—Transport Zero™ steps can now be found at 14 boat ramps around the Illinois private lake.
The signs were installed during the annual spring cleanup, one of many events hosted by the Wonder Lake Sportsman’s Club. And it’s just the latest effort designed to raise awareness of aquatic invasive species and how they spread.
The recent surge of outreach at Wonder Lake is largely driven by concern over invasive plants like Phragmites, a species that’s spreading quickly across the Great Lakes region. Plant life along the lakeshore is limited now, but an ongoing dredging project is expected to change that.
Randy Stowe, the lake manager, wants to make sure that the species that move in don’t pose a threat to habitats and recreation.
“We’ll be reaching out to those who own the land along the lake to educate them about invasive plants—how to recognize them, and what to do if you find one,” said Stowe. “We’re really trying to stay ahead of things.”
Learn more about how you can fight the spread of invasive species at TransportZero.org.
***Photo credit: Wonder Lake Sportsman’s Club
February 10th, 2015 by iisg_superadmin
Last weekend, high school anglers from across the state gathered at central Illinois’ Clinton Lake to battle for one of the top honors in competitive bass fishing—the Big Bass award. But the teams participating in the Illinois Bass Fishing Club High School Open walked away with a lot more than awards and prize bags. The 150-plus competitors and coaches also left with “how-to” tips for stopping aquatic invasive species (AIS) in their tracks.
AIS prevention has become a fixture at this annual tournament, one of few in the state that allow students to hone their skills and learn about ways to carry their love of bass fishing into college. During the tournament’s four-year history, IISG specialists have joined teams at the Mascoutin Recreation Area to talk about the threat of invasive species and what anglers can do to halt their spread. Frequent announcements from Illini Bass Fishing Club members each year also remind students and parents alike of the importance of “leaving the lakes better than we found them.”
“No one cares more about Illinois’ fisheries than fishermen,” said Luke Stoner, former Illini Bass Fishing Club president and tournament director. “It’s our job to keep them as healthy as we can, and that includes fighting the spread of invasive species.”
This is not the only event where conservation has taken center stage. In fact, in the last decade, groups like the Shawnee MuskieHunters and Illinois Bass Federation have expanded their interest in casting technique, water safety, and fishing etiquette to become leaders in invasive species prevention.
Tournaments and club events give young anglers a chance to practice easy steps that prevent AIS from hitchhiking to new habitats and wreaking havoc on food webs and recreation. For example, removing plants, animals, and mud from all equipment, draining all water from your boat and gear, and drying everything thoroughly with a towel after a day on the water will help keep waterways clean and healthy. Throwing any removed plants and unused bait in the trash is also a simple way to join the fight against aquatic invaders.
“To be really effective, these practices have to become routine—the first thing you do after leaving the water,” said Sarah Zack, IISG’s aquatic invasive species outreach specialist. “That’s why it is so encouraging that Illinois anglers and boaters are learning these practices early and are being encouraged to share them with their friends and family.”
Learn more about IISG’s invasive species prevention program, Be a Hero – Transport ZeroTM, at TransportZero.org.
January 29th, 2015 by iisg_superadmin
A closer look at web tools and sites that boost research and empower Great Lakes communities to secure a healthy environment and economy.
Hundreds of invasive species are on the loose in U.S. waters wreaking havoc on habitats, recreation, and economies. Fortunately, a team of student detectives are on the case and ready to book these “bad guys” with help from Nab the Aquatic Invader!
This educational website turns students grades 4-10 into PIs hot on the trail of some of the worst invaders in their region. After brushing up on detailed profiles complete with interrogation recordings, students take part in ongoing investigations led by veteran gumshoes. Whether they join as junior detectives or super sleuths, students learn to ID the suspects, expose the damage they cause, and stop invaders before they strike again.
The site also includes a teacher Top Desk Administrator with example projects that give students a chance to share what they’ve learned with their communities. Along with detailed summary reports, these examples make it easy for teachers to plan and implement successful AIS stewardship projects in their own classroom.
But you don’t have to go online to crack a case. A suite of card games and posters inspired by the website are also available. Students and adults alike can even join the hunt for the most wanted AIS at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in D.C. and at Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers throughout the country.
Nab the Aquatic Invader! was created by IISG and Sea Grant programs in New York, Louisiana, Connecticut, and Oregon.
January 27th, 2015 by iisg_superadmin
Water gardeners—keep your eyes open this season for invasive plants that may be lurking at your neighborhood garden store. In recent years, Illinois and Indiana DNR have both added nearly 30 new species to their lists of banned aquatic plants, but some may still be available for sale.
If you spot one of these invaders, be sure to tell the store manager. Some species can be hard to identify and larger stores may not even know these plants are on their shipment list. That’s exactly what was happening at a Petco in Carbondale, IL, where Karla Gage found Brazilian elodea—aka Egeria densa—while browsing with her family.
“I notified the department manager that this was listed as an injurious species in Illinois, and I sent a follow up email to the store manager,” said Karla, coordinator of the River to River Cooperative Weed Management Area, which brings together federal, state, local, and private partners to tackle invasive plants in southern Illinois. “I received a call from the corporate contact, who stated that Petco stores in Illinois would no longer receive or be able to order Brazilian elodea. Previously, Carbondale stock had been on “auto-replenish,” so the stores never actually ordered Brazilian elodea. Current stock is being disposed of responsibly.”
“Thanks to Admin Code 805 and the quick response of Petco,” she added, “the risk of an introduction of Brazilian elodea into natural systems has been reduced.”
The Illinois and Indiana rules also make it illegal to gift, barter, exchange, loan, or transport the any listed species. Recent additions to the list—27 plant species in Illinois and 28 in Indiana—were chosen based on the results of a risk assessment tool developed in Indiana by the Aquatic Plant Working Group. The tool evaluates species based on factors like ability to thrive in the Great Lakes and difficulty to control. IISG’s aquatic invasive species (AIS) team organized and facilitated the group, which included representatives from the aquatic plant industry, aquarium and water garden hobbyists, state agencies, academia, and non-governmental organizations.
Visit our AIS page for more information about invasive plants and animals on the market and what water gardeners and aquarium hobbyists can do to prevent their spread.
***Photo courtesy of Graves Lovell, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bugwood.org.
Managing aquatic invasive species is no easy—or cheap—task. Plants and animals spread to new regions through a variety of routes, many of which involve human activities like fishing, boating, and gardening. Coupled with the fact that there are hundreds of new species poised to thrive in Midwestern environments, it is very difficult for natural resource managers to get a jump on these invaders.
But all that may be changing in Illinois due to a new database cataloging the presence of non-native species across the state. Created at Loyola University Chicago by then-graduate student Abigail Jacobs and ecologist Reuben Keller, the database brings together animal and plant sightings collected by the U.S. Geological Survey, Field Museum, Illinois Natural History Survey, and many other organizations and researchers. Its more than 20,000 records makes it one of the most comprehensive AIS databases in country.
The size and detail of the database reveals previously-unknown patterns in the movement of invasive species that will help natural resource managers better focus their control and monitoring efforts.
“We now have maps showing the number of AIS in each county and showing where species tend to be first recorded,” said Keller. “These are really useful for determining where managers should focus on controlling existing invaders and where efforts should go into monitoring for new invaders.”
“The database will make it easier to connect with audiences by talking about how the specific waterways and habitats they care about are being affected by invasive species,” said Pat.
***Photo: Purple loosestrife is one of many invasive plants cataloged in the database.