Researchers from around the world will gather at what many consider to be a perfect storm for invasive aquatic plants. With 28 ports of entry and a tropical environment, Florida ranks first among states for invasive species.
Thus, 250 scientists from 13 countries will gather at the 20th International Conference on Aquatic Invasive Species from Oct. 22 to 26 in Fort Lauderdale. The University of Florida IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants and the Invasive Species Centre in Canada are hosting the conference.
“We all get really excited when we hear about something that works really well, thinking that it worked well right from the start. Most of the time there were many failed techniques and experiments that led up to a success,” said Lyn Gettys, UF/IFAS assistant professor and chair of the conference. “We are a global community and we’re all working towards a goal of trying to improve our environment and our world. Conferences like this give us the opportunity to get together and talk and learn about how we can do this.”
“ICAIS is widely considered the most comprehensive international forum on aquatic invasive species, and Florida is the perfect host for this event because of its reputation as an invasive species hotspot,” said Tracey Cooke, executive director of the Invasive Species Centre. “Coordinating this conference is a crucial role for us because it brings together leaders from academia, industry, government, and NGOs to share research and policy developments on emerging aquatic invasive species issues. The presentations and opportunities for collaboration stimulate innovative ideas.” Amid global efforts to control and reduce the spread of invasive species, Florida is the “perfect storm” for aquatic invasive species to thrive, according to Gettys, who is based at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. “In the wake of Hurricane Irma, we are concerned about a storm’s ability to help spread invasive species and contribute to unseen environmental disruptions,” she said. “When you have a lot of wave and wind action, the plants tend to get broken up into bits and they spread on the currents. Wherever they land, they end up forming roots and could be creating a new infestation. There is definitely a very real possibility of invasive aquatic plants spreading from infested systems and flooding.”
The imminent spread of aquatic invasive species through movement of plant fragments once a hurricane has hit is just one of the ramifications that Irma and her hurricane friends will have on aquatic invasive species, Gettys said. “There is a cascade effect when it comes to things like hurricanes and the damage they cause. The interaction between invasive, native, and endangered species is also something that should be considered,” she said.
Researchers will also discuss how entire populations of endangered species can vanish after hurricanes hit, in turn affecting the density of aquatic invasive plants. For example, said Gettys, the Everglades snail kite, an endangered bird, were wiped out from Lake Okeechobee. “This is going to have a trickle-down effect. Apple snails, who feed on hydrilla, an aquatic invasive plant, may end up proliferating because they don’t have the snail kite to eat them and that may affect hydrilla density. It will be a couple of years before we truly understand the impacts of hurricanes on Florida’s environment and ecosystem,” she said.
Aside from the fury and wrath of hurricane season, the perfect storm for invasive species to thrive in Florida happens year-round. Gettys said. “Miami is a huge source for invasive species that enter the country. Between 70 to 90 percent of invasive species in the U.S. entered through the Port of Miami, either intentionally or by accident,” she said.
by Beverly James, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences