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Nature’s Trespassers: Why Invasive Species are a Threat to Biodiversity

Zebra Mussels, Burmese Pythons, Asian Carp, and Cane Toads— while these species have seemingly no correlation, they share one key characteristic. They’re all invasive species. An invasive species refers to organisms that have traveled out of their natural habitats and have ‘invaded’ foreign places.

Burmese Python, Python, Invasive Species, Florida, Pythons in Florida
The Burmese Python

The Burmese Python, for example, is not native to Florida— a state in the USA that they currently occupy. There are anywhere between 30,000 to 150,000 Burmese pythons in Florida, despite them originating from Southeast Asia and China.

Originally, the Burmese python was brought in as a household pet, however, they escaped captivity as their owners released them, or due to loose cages that were easy to break out of. The escapes resulted in the death of many native species. An estimated 87.5% of bobcats, 94.1% of white-tailed deer, and 98.9% of opossum populations declined due to the invasive pythons— not even mentioning the other species that suffered.

Another example is Zebra Mussels, a species of mussels that originate from Eurasia. Zebra mussels were brought in through ballast water from ships. Since its introduction, Zebra mussels have rapidly spread across the Great Lakes, and into east Mississippi. Zebra Mussels filter out algae needed for native species and directly incapacitate them as well. An

Zebra Mussels, Mussels, Invasive Species, Invasive, water
Zebra Mussels

additional cost is that humans have to spend extra money to get them out of pipes. This results in Zebra Mussels severely damaging any and all ecosystems they touch.

While all the species previously listed seem to have little similarities physically— they have one thing that makes them so successful in invading other territories. They’re called ‘generalist species’ meaning that they can thrive in many climates, on many foods. For example, raccoons are found widely across North America; however, their ability to survive relies on their ability to eat many things and adapt. Pandas, for example, are considered ‘specialists’ as they can only thrive in specific places, and eat almost nothing aside from Bamboo. This makes it difficult for them to flourish in more than one place. That’s why invasive species of Pandas don’t really exist.


Panda, China, Specialist Species, invasive species
Pandas are a common example of Specialist Species

Invasive species, due to their generalist traits, are able to survive. Alongside this fact, they additionally have no natural predators— so they can keep reproducing, without being cut down by predation. This allows them to grow exponentially, and kill competing native species, as they consume all the food that the native species would have had.

What does this mean for the environment? It means that countless biomes face a decrease in biodiversity. Biodiversity is the abundance of different types of organisms within an ecosystem. When invasive species kill other types of native organisms, it decreases the abundance and types of species in a given ecosystem, lowering biodiversity, and thus, harming the ecosystem.

How can this be avoided? Well, for one, don’t release any pets (especially rodents or fish) into the wild for whatever may be the reason. In addition, make sure to keep traps in suitcases if traveling to a foreign country, so as to keep rodents out of them. Clean your shoes thoroughly to prevent the spreading of seeds, and clean any watercraft thoroughly before and after boarding. All of these things can prevent the spread of invasive species from one area to another. Once invasive species enter an ecosystem, seldom do they leave.




Sources:


Invasive species: Finding solutions to stop their spread. U.S. Department of the Interior. (2023, June 27). https://www.doi.gov/blog/invasive-species-finding-solutions-stop-their-spread

Sarill, M. (2016). Burmese pythons in the everglades: International & Executive Programs: UC Berkeley. Burmese Pythons in the Everglades | International & Executive Programs | UC Berkeley. https://iep.berkeley.edu/content/burmese-pythons-everglades

Tobin, P. C. (2018, October 23). Managing invasive species. F1000Research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6206619/

What are zebra mussels and why should we care about them?. What are zebra mussels and why should we care about them? | U.S. Geological Survey. (n.d.). https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/what-are-zebra-mussels-and-why-should-we-care-about-them


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