By Ashley McAvoy
What do zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha), kudzu (Pueraria lobata), and the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) all have in common? They’re all invasive species to North America, meaning they came from somewhere else. You’ve probably heard of at least one of these because of their major impact on our environment. For example, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, there are patches of land that are completely covered by kudzu. Every year when I drive by one of these kudzu clusters, they seem to take over more forest and grasslands. Invasive species beat our native species to food and water and completely change the environment for the worse. They cause a decrease in native species and an increase in erosion. It’s important that we remove invasive species and limit them spreading in our environment before they do more damage.
Ok, so we understand that invasive species are bad, but how did they get here? Usually, they’re released unknowingly. For example, boats carrying zebra mussels on their hulls unintentionally brought them into the Great Lakes. On the other hand, sometimes people bring them in deliberately. Kudzu was introduced by a government-sponsored program to prevent erosion, but as time passed, it became obvious that it worked too well as a ground cover. The European starling was brought into North America for a completely different purpose. It is rumored that they were released in the late 1890’s in an effort to introduce all the birds mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare.
Regardless of how these non-native species got here, we need to take precautions to prevent a further invasion of our neighborhoods and parks. Take some time to become familiar with the native plants and animals in your area.
- Learn about what belongs. The more you know about the plants that grow naturally in your neighborhood, the more you can help prevent the spread of non-native species.
- Plant native species of plants in your garden.
- Never release unwanted pets into the wild; they can wreak havoc on native plants and animals.
- Take the Invasive Species Challenge for National Invasive Species Week.
The more we know about invasive species, the more we can stop the ones that don’t belong.
About the author: Ashley McAvoy is an Intern with the Office of Web Communications for spring 2013. She is a double major in Environmental Studies and Hispanic Studies at Washington College.