The Abundance of Invasive Species
Recognizing that invasive species are potentially major catalysts for environmental change, researchers from the University of Wisconsin—Madison are relooking at how we account for invasive species populations. Instead of researching the habits of the invasive species, researchers Gretchen Hansen and Jake Vander Zanden are considering abundance distributions of an invasive species. They hypothesize that measuring abundance in an area is a more helpful determinate for defining the most optimal methods of prevention, containment, control and eradication.
Jake Vander Zanden, professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison leading the research says, "Invasive species are often thought of as species that take over wherever they get in. But, in our experience studying lakes and rivers, in most places they weren't all that abundant. It was only in a few places where they got out of hand." But those happen to be the same places where the natives would do well too, perhaps explaining why invasive species attract so much attention.
This indicated that invasive species are acting much like their native counterparts and following the ecological patterns of distribution and growth. Their study has used "abundance data from over 24,000 populations of 17 invasive and 104 native aquatic species to test whether invasive species differ from native counterparts in statistical patterns of abundance across multiple sites."
Vander Zanden addresses the importance of this difference in understanding. His point is that thus far, our attention has been placed almost exclusively on the understanding of the invasive species and its makeup. We have placed less attention on its preferred habitat and what attributes make a habitat favorable for this species. If we were to place emphasis on the site characteristics where invasive species flourish instead then we would be more able to target our time and resources most effectively. Identifying characteristic details of an invasive species hotspot provides another consideration for the prevention and control of an invasive species before an invasion takes hold instead of containing and eradicating after the abundance has taken hold. By placing focus in this way on specific sites we are more apt to contain a problem. Vander Zanden asserts that this method would be much more likely to provide us with maximum benefit for limited resources.
Hansen goes on to say, "Of all the species we know to be invasive, our study shows that they are likely to reach high densities in only a few places — predicting which ones would help focus control efforts on the sites where they're likely to become highly abundant, letting us spend our limited resources in ways that will provide the maximum benefit."
Read more at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Zebra Mussel image by Amy Benson via U. S. Geological Survey.