Learn how alien species invade the environment and wreak havoc on it

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It’s a scenario straight out of a science fiction novel. An alien invasion began, stealing food and other resources and replacing the lives of the natives.

But it’s reality. Instead of an extraterrestrial species, imagine a spotted lanternfly, or perhaps a bush honeysuckle.

It may not sound all that shocking or creepy, but these aliens are invading and taking over our environment, displacing native species.

We’re talking about invasive species. They come in all forms: plants, animals, insects, large and small, beautiful and terrifying. What they all have in common is that they can cause serious damage.

Take Emerald Ash Boerer for example. These tiny iridescent green beetles have nearly wiped out ash trees across the country, including right here in Indianapolis.

We know that invasive species can cause problems, but this week on Scrub Hub we’re looking at how they get here.

To find the answer, we spoke to the Indiana Native Plant Association and Indiana Collaborative Invasive Management experts.

Short answer: introduced by accident and on purpose.

In the simplest terms, invasive species are species that grow outside of their natural range, said Dawn Slack, project coordinator for the Indiana Invasion Initiative. They can harm not only the environment but also human health and the economy.

Invasive species can be introduced in a variety of ways, sometimes accidentally and sometimes intentionally. In any case, it all comes back to horticulture, the practice of growing and maintaining a garden.

Insects and plants: 10 invasive species to watch out for across Indiana

Many exotic plants are actually introduced into areas outside their natural range by humans for a variety of reasons, including landscape use, food production, and research, Slack said. Many of these introductions occurred decades before conservationists began to understand the importance of native plants.

Many invasive insects often arrive on packaging materials or on infected plants. This means that many invaders are introduced and undetected until they become established. By then it will be too late.

This is the case, for example, with the Asian jumping worm, which is spreading across Indiana in the soil of donated plants.

Long answer: It’s hard to stop the spread.

Once an invasive species is introduced, it can be difficult to prevent its spread. Its spread can occur in different ways.

Humans may share plants and seeds without knowing that they are problem species. Contaminated equipment clothing and shoes can transfer seeds to new locations. Seeds and fruits can be blown long distances or carried by rivers and streams. Alternatively, wild animals may eat the seeds or fruit and drop them elsewhere.

The Bradford or Currie pear tree is a good example. Because of its beautiful flowers that bloom in spring, it was popular as a tree for landscaping and public roads. Now they can be found everywhere on roadsides and near highway exits and entrance ramps. Many of them were not planted, but appeared naturally.

These trees are so prevalent that the City of Carmel is currently on a long-term mission to remove the controversial invasive species that can choke the native ecosystem.

That’s what happens. These invasive species take over because there are no native diseases, insects, or predators to help keep them at bay. In a native ecosystem, everything fits somewhere in the chain. However, intruders introduce kinks into the system.

In addition, many invasive species have long growing and active seasons, which is becoming more advantageous as temperatures rise due to climate change.

According to Slack, this advantage can also be a disadvantage. Invasive species grow while native species are dormant, creating opportunities to more easily identify and manage them.

Slack said that while some progress has been made in combating invasive species, her organization has “a backlog of invasive species to deal with and we are continuing to expand into areas outside the range of native species.” We continue to introduce plants,” he added.

Fish, moths, mussels: Here are five of the most harmful animals and invasive insects wreaking havoc in Indiana.

The best thing to do is to deter intruders from entering, Slack said. As simple as it may sound, it means planting native species in your landscape and leveraging resources like the Indiana Native Plant Society to make the right choices.

“Our beautiful spring and summer gardens and natural areas can thrive without invasives,” Slack said.

If you have further questions about exotic plants, insects, or other topics, please let us know. You can submit your question using the Google form below. I can’t see the form? click here.

Call IndyStar reporter Sarah Bowman at 317-444-6129 or email sarah.bowman@indystar.com.follow her her twitter and Facebook: @IndyStarSarah. Connect with IndyStar’s environmental reporters: Join The Scrub on Facebook.

The IndyStar Environmental Reporting Project is made possible through the generous support of the nonprofit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.





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