Understanding and Addressing Invasive Species

Photo from: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, water chestnut bed at Beacon

Spring is officially here! Tulips will soon be emerging from the ground, buds blossoming on trees and, unfortunately, invasive plant species will begin their annual growing cycle. No type of habitat or region of the globe is immune to the threat of invasive species (“invasives”). Invasives create major impacts on ecosystems throughout the world, and freshwater ecosystems and estuaries are especially vulnerable because the establishment of such species in these habitats is difficult to contain and reverse.

This blog provides an introduction to invasive aquatic species, including information that will help you prevent the spread of invasives in the waterways of your community.

Defining Invasive Species

Invasive species can be defined as non-native occurring in an ecosystem that is outside its actual natural or native distributional range. Although the colonization of an ecosystem by non-native species can occur naturally, it is more often a function of human intervention, both deliberate and accidental. For aquatic ecosystems some species have become established as a result of the aquarium trade, fish culture practices and/or transport of plants and animals in the bilge and ballast water of trans-oceanic shipping vessels.

One of the primary reasons invasives are able to thrive, spread rapidly, and outcompete native species is that the environmental checks and predators that control these species in their natural settings are lacking in the ecosystems and habitat in which they become introduced. The subsequent damages they cause occur on many ecological levels including competition for food or habitat (feeding, refuge and/or spawning), direct predation and consumption of native species, introduction of disease or parasites, and other forms of disruption that lead to the replacement of the native species with the invasive species. As a result, invasives very often cause serious harm to the environment, the economy, and even human health. A prominent example is the Emerald Ash Borer, a non-native, invasive beetle that is responsible for the widespread death of ash trees.

As noted above, there are a large number of aquatic invasive species. Some of the more commonly occurring non-native aquatic plant species that impact East Coast lakes, ponds and reservoirs include:

Understanding How Invasives Spread

Either intentionally or unintentionally, people have helped spread invasives around the globe. This is not a recent phenomenon but rather something that has been occurring for centuries. “Intentional introductions,” the deliberate transfer of nuisance species into a new environment, can involve a person pouring their home aquarium into a lake or deliberate actions intended to improve the conditions for various human activities, for example, in agriculture, or to achieve aesthetics not naturally available.

Photo by: Tom Britt/CC Flickr, zebra Mussels adhered to a boat propeller“Unintentional introductions” involve the accidental transfer of invasives, which can happen in many ways, including aquatic species attached to the hull of boats or contained in bilge and ballast water. A high-profile example is the introduction of zebra mussels to North America. Native to Central Asia and parts of Europe, zebra mussels accidentally arrived in the Great Lakes and Hudson River via cargo ships traveling between the regions. The occurrence, density, and distribution of Zebra mussels occurred at an alarming rate, with the species spreading to 20 states in the United States and to Ontario and Quebec in Canada. Due to their reproductive fecundity and filter-feeding ability, they are considered the most devastating aquatic invasive species to invade North American fresh waters. They alter and diminish the plankton communities of the lakes that they colonize leading to a number of cascading trophic impacts that have especially negative consequences on fisheries. Zebra mussel infestations have also been linked to increased cyanobacteria (bluegreen algae) blooms and the occurrence of harmful algae blooms (HABs) that impact drinking water quality, recreational use, and the health of humans, pets, and livestock.

Additionally, higher than average temperatures and changes in rain and snow patterns caused by climate change further enable some invasive plant species to move into new areas. This is exemplified by the increased northly spread of hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillate), a tropical invasive plant species that has migrated since its introduction in Florida in the 1950s to lakes, rivers, and reservoirs throughout the U.S.

Regardless of how any of these invasive species first became established, the thousands of terrestrial and aquatic invasive species introduced into the U.S. have caused major ecological, recreational and economic impacts.

Measuring the Impacts of Invasives

After habitat loss, invasive, non-native species are the second largest threat to biodiversity. According to The Nature Conservancy, “Invasive species have contributed directly to the decline of 42% of the threatened and endangered species in the United States. The annual cost to the nation’s economy is estimated at $120 billion a year, with over 100 million acres (an area roughly the size of California) suffering from invasive plant infestations. Invasive species are a global problem — with the annual cost of impacts and control efforts equaling 5% of the world’s economy.”

Of the $120 billion, about $100 million per year is spent on aquatic invasive plant control to address such deleterious issues as:

  • Human health (West Nile Virus, Zika Virus)
  • Water quality impacts (Canada geese)
  • Potable water supplies (Zebra mussel)
  • Commercial fisheries (Snake head, lamprey, Eurasian ruffe, round goby)
  • Recreational activities (Eurasian watermilfoil, water chestnut, hydrilla)
  • Biodiversity (Purple loosestrife, common reed, Japanese knotweed)

Invasive species can change the food web in an ecosystem by destroying or replacing native food sources. As the National Wildlife Federation explains, “The invasive species may provide little to no food value for native wildlife. Invasive species can also alter the abundance or diversity of species that are important habitat for native wildlife. Additionally, some invasive species are capable of changing the conditions in an ecosystem, such as changing soil chemistry…”

Addressing Invasives

Our native biodiversity is an irreplaceable and valuable treasure. Through a combination of prevention, early detection, eradication, restoration, research and outreach, we can help protect our native heritage from damage by invasive species.

What Can We Do?

  • Reduce the spread
  • Routinely monitor
  • Document and report
  • Spread the word

Reducing the Spread:
The best way to fight invasive species is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. There are a variety of simple things each of us can do to help stop the introduction and spread of invasives.

  • Plant native plants on your property and remove any invasive plants. Before you plant anything, verify with your local nursery and check out this online resource for help in identifying invasive plants.
  • Thoroughly wash your gear and watercraft before and after your trip. Invasives come in many forms – plants, fungi and animals – and even those of microscopic size can cause major damage.
  • Don’t release aquarium fish and plants, live bait or other exotic animals into the wild. If you plan to own an exotic pet, do your research to make sure you can commit to looking after it. Look into alternatives to live bait.

Monitoring:
The Lake Hopatcong Foundation Water Chestnut prevention brochureInvasive plant monitoring is one of the most valuable site­-level activities people can support. Contact your local watershed organizations to inquire about watershed monitoring volunteer opportunities. For example, the Lake Hopatcong “Water Scouts” program was established to seek out and remove any instances of the invasive water chestnut species.

If you are a lake or watershed manager, the best way to begin an invasive plant monitoring project is with an expert invasive plant survey to determine which invasives are most likely to be problematic in your watershed and identify the watershed’s most vulnerable areas. Contact us to learn more.

 

Documenting and Reporting:
It’s important to learn to identify invasive species in your area and report any sightings to your county extension agent or local land manager. For example, in New Jersey there is the Invasive Species Strike Team that tracks the spread of terrestrial and aquatic invasives and works with local communities in the management of these species. Additionally, consider developing a stewardship plan for your community to help preserve its natural resources. Princeton Hydro’s team of natural resource scientists can help you get the ball rolling by preparing stewardship plans focused on controlling invasive species and protecting the long-term health of open spaces, forests habitats, wetlands, and water-quality in your community.

Spreading the word:
Many people still don’t understand the serious implications of invasive species. Education is a crucial step in stopping the spread of invasives, which is why it’s so important to talk with your neighbors, friends and family about the hazards and ecological/economic impacts of invasive species.

Also consider talking with your community lake or watershed manager about hosting an educational workshop where experts can share their knowledge about invasives specific to your area and how best to address them. Princeton Hydro’s Director of Aquatic Programs Dr. Fred Lubnow recently gave a presentation to the Lake Hopatcong Foundation titled, “Invasive Species in Watershed Management.” View it here.

 

We encourage you to share this article and spread your invasive species knowledge so that together we can help stop the introduction and spread of invasive species.

Conservation Spotlight: FORTESCUE SALT MARSH AND AVALON TIDAL MARSH RESTORATION

HABITAT RESTORATION THROUGH APPLICATION OF DREDGED MATERIAL

New Jersey, like other coastal states, has been losing coastal wetland habitats to a combination of subsidence, erosion and sea level rise. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection received a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Federation to address this issue and rejuvenate these critical habitats. Grantees were charged with providing increased resilience to natural infrastructure that will in turn increase the resiliency of coastal communities in the face of future storms like Hurricane Sandy.

As a consultant for GreenTrust Alliance, a land conservancy holding company, Princeton Hydro worked with several project partners, including NJDEP, the US Army Corps of Engineers, NJDOT, The Wetlands Institute, and The Nature Conservancy, to increase the marsh elevation to an optimal range where vegetation, and the wildlife that depends on it, can flourish. One of the techniques used for this project included the use of dredged material disposal placement, which involves using recycled sand and salt dredged from navigation channels to boost the elevation of the degraded marsh.

A media statement from NJDEP further explained the process, “sediments dredged from navigation channels and other areas are pumped onto eroding wetlands to raise their elevations enough to allow native marsh grasses to flourish or to create nesting habitats needed by some rare wildlife species. Healthy marshes with thick mats of native grasses can cushion the impact of storm surges, thereby reducing property damage.”

FORTESCUE SALT MARSH

The salt marsh at the Fortescue project site is part of the Fortescue Wildlife Management Area. The specific goal of the project was to restore and enhance the interior high and low marsh, coastal dune and beach habitats.

To achieve these habitat enhancements, the Princeton Hydro project team first established biological benchmarks of each targeted habitat type and evaluated them to determine the upper and lower elevational tolerances for target communities and plant species. Approximately 33,300 cubic yards of dredged materials were used to restore a degraded salt marsh, restore an eroded dune, and replenish Fortescue Beach. The eroded dune was replaced with a dune designed to meet target flood elevations and protect the marsh behind it against future damage. The dune was constructed using dredged sand, and, to prevent sediment from entering the waterways, a Filtrexx containment material was used.

AVALON TIDAL MARSH

This project site is a tidal marsh complex located within a back-bay estuary proximal to Stone Harbor and Avalon. Princeton Hydro and project partners aimed to enhance the marsh in order to achieve the primary goal of restoring the natural function of the tidal marsh complex.

Two main activities were conducted in order to apply the dredged material to the impaired marsh plain: 1.) the placement of a thin layer of material over targeted areas of existing salt marsh to increase marsh elevations, 2.) the concentrated placement of material to fill expanding pools by elevating the substrate to the same elevation as the adjacent marsh. In total, dredged material was distributed among eight distinct placement areas throughout the property’s 51.2 acres.

These coastal wetland restoration activities will help to prevent the subsidence-based marsh loss by filling isolated pockets of open water and increasing marsh platform elevation. In addition, the beneficial reuse of dredged material facilitates routine and post-storm dredging and improves the navigability of waterways throughout the U.S.

Improving Water Quality & Reducing Habitat Loss with Floating Wetland Islands

Floating Wetland Islands (FWI), also known as floating treatment wetlands, are an effective alternative to large, watershed-based, natural wetlands. Often described as self-sustaining, FWIs provide numerous ecological benefits. They assimilate and remove excess nutrients that could fuel algae growth; provide habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms; help mitigate wave and wind erosion impacts; provide an aesthetic element; and can be part of a holistic lake/pond management strategy. FWIs are also highly adaptable and can be sized, configured and planted to fit the needs of nearly any lakepond or reservoir.

Princeton Hydro Senior Scientist Katie Walston recently completed the Floating Island International (FII) Floating Wetland Master Seminar. The seminar provided participants with an in-depth look at the various technologies and products FII offers. Through hands-on examples, course participants learned how to utilize wetland islands for fisheries enhancement, stormwater management, shoreline preservation, wastewater treatment and more.

“The Master Seminar was truly valuable both personally and professionally,” said Katie. “I learned a tremendous amount and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It’s very fulfilling knowing that I can take the knowledge I’ve learned back to Princeton Hydro and make positive impacts for our clients.”

FII was launched by inventor and outdoorsman Bruce Kania who was driven by the desire to reverse the decline of wetland habitats by developing a new and natural stewardship tool that could clean water and, in the process, improve life for all living creatures. He found that the answer lies in Biomimicry: duplicating nature’s processes in a sustainable, efficient and powerful way to achieve impeccable environmental stewardship for the benefit of all life.

Bruce brought together a team of engineers and plant specialists and created BioHaven® floating islands. These islands biomimic natural floating islands to create a “concentrated” wetland effect. Independent laboratory tests show removal rates far in excess of previously published data: 20 times more nitrate, 10 times more phosphate and 11 times more ammonia, using unplanted islands. They are also extremely effective at reducing total suspended solids and dissolved organic carbon in waterways.

Due to population growth, industrialization and climate change, wetlands are at risk of rapidly declining in quantity and quality due. However, every floating wetland island launched by FII provides an effective strategy for mitigating and adapting to the impacts of over development and climate change.

The unique design of BioHaven® floating islands means that 250 square feet of island translates to an acre’s worth of wetland surface area. These versatile floating islands can be launched in either shallow or deep water, and can be securely anchored or tethered to ensure that they remain in a specific location. They are almost infinitely customizable, and can be configured in a variety of ways.

In addition to ongoing prototype development, FII offers licensing opportunities to businesses and production facilities worldwide. FII continues to research and develop collaborative pilot projects to quantify BioHaven® floating islands’ efficacy.

Many thanks to Bruce and Anne Kania for hosting the Floating Wetland Master Seminar and inspiring action through their knowledge, passion and ongoing endeavors.

 

NJ Audubon undertakes $470G study of climate change impact on wetlands

Princeton Hydro is proud to be a partner on this incredible project

If you’ve ever gone birdwatching at any east coast wildlife refuge, then you probably understand the value of coastal impoundments. These man-made wetland habitats are contained by embankments and have gates that allow managers to manipulate water levels. In addition to being valuable, these structures are also very vulnerable to sea level rise and extreme weather.

Through a $470,000 federal grant, the New Jersey Audubon is implementing an initiative to study the vulnerability of these impoundments to climate change induced environmental impacts. Funded by the U.S. Department of the Interior via the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Coastal Impoundment Vulnerability and Resilience Project (CIVRP) aims to map and catalog all state, federal, and privately owned coastal impoundments from Virginia to Maine. The project is a cooperative effort of a diverse team of partners including researchers from New Jersey Audubon, National Wildlife Federation, Conservation Management Institute (Virginia Tech), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Princeton Hydro.

The CIVRP will ultimately reduce climate vulnerability and enhance the natural ecosystem function of these precious and treasured wetland habitats. Read the full article from MyCentralJersey.

Princeton Hydro specializes in the restoration, creation and enhancement of tidal and freshwater wetlands. Contact us to learn more, and read about some of our award-winning wetland-related projects here.

Four Ways Climate Change Could Affect Your Lake

The Local Effects of Climate Change Observed Through our Community Lakes

Climate change is an enormous concept that can be hard to wrap your head around. It comes in the form of melting ice caps, stronger storms and more extreme seasonal temperatures. If you’re an avid angler, photographer, swimmer, boater or nature enthusiast, it’s likely that because of climate change you’ll bear witness to astonishing shifts in nature throughout the greater portion of your lifetime. This is especially true with respect to lakes.

2015-07-07-10-01-20Lakes are living laboratories through which we can observe the local effects of climate change in our own communities. Lake ecosystems are defined by a combination of various abiotic and biotic factors. Changes in hydrology, water chemistry, biology or physical properties of a lake can have cascading consequences that may rapidly alter the overall properties of a lake. Most of the time the results are negative and the impacts severe. Recognizing and monitoring the changes that are taking place locally brings the problems of climate change closer to home, which can help raise awareness and inspire environmentally-minded action.

Princeton Hydro has put together a list of four inter-related, climate change induced environmental impacts that can affect lakes and lake communities:

1. Higher temperatures = shifts in flora and fauna populations

The survival of many lake organisms is dependent on the existence of set temperature ranges and ample oxygen levels. The amount of dissolved oxygen (DO) present in a lake is a result of oxygen diffusion from the atmosphere and its production by algae and aquatic plants via photosynthesis. An inverse relationship exists between water temperature and DO concentrations. Due to the physical properties of water, warmer water holds less DO than cooler water.

This is not good news for many flora and fauna, such as fish that can only survive and reproduce in waters of specific temperatures and DO levels. Lower oxygen levels can reduce their ability to feed, spawn and survive. Populations of cold water fishes, such as brown trout and salmon, will be jeopardized by climate change (Kernan, 2015).

358-001-carp-from-churchvilleAlso consider the effects of changing DO levels on fishes that can tolerate these challenging conditions. They will thrive where others struggle, taking advantage of their superior fitness by expanding their area of colonization, increasing population size, and/or becoming a more dominant species in the ecosystem. A big fish in a little pond, you might say. Carp is a common example of a thermo-tolerant fish that can quickly colonize and dominate a lake’s fishery, in the process causing tremendous ecological impact (Kernan, 2010).

2. Less water availability = increased salinity

Just as fish and other aquatic organisms require specific ranges of temperature and dissolved oxygen to exist, they must also live in waters of specific salinity. Droughts are occurring worldwide in greater frequency and intensity. The lack of rain reduces inflow and higher temperatures promote increased evaporation. Diminishing inflow and dropping lake levels are affecting some lakes by concentrating dissolved minerals and increasing their salinity.

Studies of zooplankton, crustaceans and benthic insects have provided evidence of the consequences of elevated salinity levels on organismal health, reproduction and mortality (Hall and Burns, 2002; Herbst, 2013; Schallenberg et al., 2003). While salinity is not directly related to the fitness or survival rate of all aquatic organisms, an increase in salinity does tend to be stressful for many.

3. Nutrient concentrations = increased frequency of harmful algal blooms

Phosphorus is a major nutrient in determining lake health. Too little phosphorus can restrict biological growth, whereas an excess can promote unbounded proliferation of algae and aquatic plants.

before_strawbridgelake2If lake or pond water becomes anoxic at the sediment-water interface (meaning the water has very low or completely zero DO), phosphorus will be released from the sediment. Also some invasive plant species can actually “pump” phosphorus from the sediments and release this excess into the water column (termed luxurious uptake). This internally released and recycled sedimentary phosphorus can greatly influence lake productivity and increase the frequency, magnitude and duration of algae blooms. Rising water temperatures, declining DO and the proliferation of invasive plants are all outcomes of climate change and can lead to increases in a lake’s phosphorus concentrations and the subsequent growth and development of algae and aquatic plants.

Rising water temperatures significantly facilitate and support the development of cyanobacteria (bluegreen algae) blooms. These blooms are also fueled by increasing internal and external phosphorus loading. At very high densities, cyanobacteria may attain harmful algae bloom (HAB) proportions. Elevated concentrations of cyanotoxins may then be produced, and these compounds seriously impact the health of humans, pets and livestock.

rain-garden-imagePhosphorus loading in our local waterways also comes from nonpoint sources, especially stormwater runoff. Climate change is recognized to increase the frequency and magnitude of storm events. Larger storms intensify the mobilization and transport of pollutants from the watershed’s surrounding lakes, thus leading to an increase in nonpoint source loading. Additionally, larger storms cause erosion and instability of streams, again adding to the influx of more phosphorus to our lakes. Shifts in our regular behaviors with regards to fertilizer usage, gardening practices and community clean-ups, as well as the implementation of green-infrastructure stormwater management measures can help decrease storm-related phosphorus loading and lessen the occurrence of HABs.

4. Cumulative effects = invasive species

A lake ecosystem stressed by agents such as disturbance or eutrophication can be even more susceptible to invasive species colonization, a concept coined “invasibility” (Kernan, 2015).

For example, imagine that cold water fish species A has experienced a 50% population decrease as a result of warming water temperatures over ten years. Consequently, the fish’s main prey, species B, has also undergone rapid changes in its population structure. Inversely, it has boomed without its major predator to keep it in check. Following this pattern, the next species level down – species B’s prey, species C – has decreased in population due to intense predation by species B, and so on. Although the ecosystem can potentially achieve equilibrium, it remains in a very unstable and ecologically stressful state for a prolonged period of time. This leads to major changes in the biotic assemblage of the lake and trickle-down changes that affect its recreational use, water quality and aesthetics.

• • •

Although your favorite lake may not experience all or some of these challenges, it is crucial to be aware of the many ways that climate change impacts the Earth. We can’t foresee exactly how much will change, but we can prepare ourselves to adapt to and aid our planet. How to start? Get directly involved in the management of your lake and pond. Decrease nutrient loading and conserve water. Act locally, but think globally. Get out and spread enthusiasm for appreciating and protecting lake ecosystems. Also, check out these tips for improving your lake’s water quality.


References

  1. Hall, Catherine J., and Carolyn W. Burns. “Mortality and Growth Responses of Daphnia Carinata to Increases in Temperature and Salinity.” Freshwater Biology 47.3 (2002): 451-58. Wiley. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.
  1. Herbst, David B. “Defining Salinity Limits on the Survival and Growth of Benthic Insects for the Conservation Management of Saline Walker Lake, Nevada, USA.” Journal of Insect Conservation 17.5 (2013): 877-83. 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.
  1. Kernan, M. “Climate Change and the Impact of Invasive Species on Aquatic Ecosystems.” Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management (2015): 321-33. Taylor & Francis Online. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.
  1. Kernan, M. R., R. W. Battarbee, and Brian Moss. “Interaction of Climate Change and Eutrophication.” Climate Change Impacts on Freshwater Ecosystems. 1st ed. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 119-51. ResearchGate. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.
  1. Schallenberg, Marc, Catherine J. Hall, and Carolyn W. Burns. “Consequences of Climate-induced Salinity Increases on Zooplankton Abundance and Diversity in Coastal Lakes”Marine Ecology Progress Series 251 (2003): 181-89. Inter-Research Science Center. Inter-Research. Web. 17