Invasive Species Awareness: How is Your Invader Knowledge?
Invasive species are non-native or exotic species that do not naturally occur in an area and cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. These invasive species have become the number one threat to biodiversity on protected lands. However, invasive species do not know boundaries and as a result public and private lands are affected as well as natural and man-made water bodies and associated watersheds. Northwest Florida is home to many unique habitats, including upland, wetland, and marine. These habitats, housing a variety of plants and animals, make this area considered as one of the top six biodiversity hotspots in the country. These invasive species threats can come in the form of both plants and animals, in Florida there are over 500 non-native fish and wildlife species and over 1180 non-native plant species that have been documented. Exotic species are able to outcompete many natives causing habitats to degrade, animals to leave, and can introduce diseases that can destroy economically important species. This is a worldwide issue that can be addressed on local levels. One of the most effective ways to control invasive species is by prevention, just by becoming invasive aware can help to control some of these issues.
So how aware are you? Recreationalists such as boaters, fishermen, pet owners, gardeners, hikers and travelers can be unknowing dispersers of invasive species. These everyday steps can help: By cleaning and draining your boat, gear and trailer between water bodies can stop the spread of species that may be hitchhiking on your equipment. If you are a pet owner and find yourself in a possession of a pet you no longer want or can care for, it is important not to release these into the wild. No pet, either native or exotic, should ever be released. This act can cause more harm than good, not only to your pet but to the other native wildlife. Follow the simple tips on Habitattitude to get tips on alternatives to releasing your pet. When out enjoying nature while biking, hiking, camping, birding, etc. take care to check where you are trekking, what might have attached to your clothing, making sure you do not end up being an unwitting disperser. Gardeners, even you can help especially when dealing with non-native plant dispersal. Not all non-native plants are bad but make sure that the plants you are putting in your garden are not harmful invaders that will make it into natural areas. Verify your plants by making sure they do not occur on the invasive plant list which can be found at http://www.fleppc.org/. There are many ways to get involved in the battle against invasive species. For more information about National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) please visit http://www.nisaw.org/, landowners can join your local Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMA) group or for more info on local invasive species contact your UF/IFAS extension office. Look for the invasive species of the day posts on the Panhandle Outdoors Extension Newsletter blog throughout NISAW to increase your awareness of local invasive exotic species.
For more information, please contact Brooke Saari, Florida Sea Grant Marine Science Agent, Okaloosa/Walton County UF/IFAS Extension by phone 689-5850 or email email@example.com.