A “presidential” platyhelminth? Meet the Obama flatworm, one of the UK’s newest invasive species. In a rather humorous coincidence, this worm is actually not named after current US President Barack Obama, but from a combination of the words “oba” (leaf) and “ma” (animal) in the Brazilian Tupi language. The flatworm, a native of Brazil itself, was first discovered in an ornamental plant that itself originated in the Netherlands—meaning the problem is possibly bigger than it appears. It’s already confirmed that this species has a presence in several European countries, including Spain, France, and Italy. Although many flatworms are aquatic or parasitic, the Obama flatworm is a planarian, a group that contains several large, free-living terrestrial representatives. The Obama flatworm is a voracious predator of earthworms, snails/slugs, and other invertebrates, and their extreme hunger has already reduced earthworm populations by some 20% in some of its introduced range. With enough time, the flatworms could negatively impact soil fertility and ecology, making a variety of food crops and other utilities more difficult. Several experts and concerned citizens are calling for increased stringency in relations to imported potted plants, as several other species have also been introduced through this largely unchecked venue. Article by Jessica Aldred in The Gaurdian.
Isaiah Barker, Master's Student in Geography
Image courtesy of Piterkeo
This week the journal Diversity and Distributions published a new paper by Faulkner et al., that used geographic profiling techniques, originally designed to solve serial crime, to detect invasive species source locations. The authors compared the accuracy of models to predict source locations (invasive mink dens) when sightings from citizen scientists were used as data points versus when professional trapping data were used. The authors found that using sightings from citizen scientists were effective in predicting the source locations despite the much lower sample size. This study highlights the value of citizen scientists in detecting invasive species in a cost-effective manner, especially during the critical early phases when control or eradication is most feasible.
Andria Kroner, Ph.D. student in Biology
The Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) has observed a notable pattern in the behavior of feral cats: the invasive predators heavily prefer hunting grounds that have been recently scorched by wildfire. The recent study published by McGregor et al. in Scientific Reports reported that cats traveled up to 8 miles outside of their normal home range in order to hunt scorched earth! Furthermore, the authors found that prey's chances of surviving a feline strike in scorched habitat were only 20%, marking a 60% difference in survival if attacked in dense habitat. As Australia continues to manage its feral cat populations, it appears that wildfire management will become a complimentary tool for suppressing the negative ecological impacts of this invasive predator. Article by Mindy Weisberger in Live Science
Henry Fandel, Ph.D. Student in Biology
Oceanic biodiversity is rapidly decreasing, but killer robots may help to undo some of the damage already done. Robots in Service of the Environment (RISE) is a group of scientists that has built a remote-controlled oceanic vehicle that sends a lethal electric shock to invasive lionfish and then collects their bodies with a net. Additionally, Drs. Matthew Dunabin and Feras Dayoub at the Queensland University of Technology have developed underwater robots that can identify the invasive crown-of-thorns starfish and inject a fatal dose of bile salts into the fish. Technologies such as these robots could be vital in the war against invasive oceanic species. Article by Kelly McSweeney for Robotics on ZD Net.
Vanessa Wuerthner, Ph.D. student in Biology
Trappers and waterfowl hunters reminded to avoid spreading invasive species. The thought of hunters as protectors of wildlife may seem counterintuitive to wildlife admirers. However, possibly no one wants to see a species flourish more than those interested in hunting it. Groups like Migratory Waterfowl Hunters inc., pour large amounts of money and volunteer person-hours into conserving species of interest, which collaterally benefit other species. Yet, hunting and other outdoor activities, pose another ecological risk to the native wildlife: the transport of invasive species. Aquatic invasive species, for instance, can be transported on boats, clothes and equipment. That’s why the Minnesota Department of Natural resources is urging waterfowl hunters heading into the field (or marsh) to take the time after trips to properly clean off. To properly clean boats that may harbor inconspicuous seeds or larval invasives (like zebra mussels), a high temperature and pressure spray is recommended. A short (30 second) video is available for more tips from the Minnesota DNR on what you can do to stop the spread of invasive species (http://tinyurl.com/jtf8tda). Article by Doug Hannerman in Hutchinson Leader.
Devin DiGiacopo, Ph.D. student in Biology
New Warning over Spread of Ash Dieback. Research by Fones et al. in Scientific Reports in the UK has predicted the spread of the Ash dieback fungus, Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, to be more infectious than ever. The disease causes leaf loss and crown dieback in Ash trees, usually resulting in tree death. Researchers once thought that the fungus was reproducing via sexual reproduction. This, however, is not the case, and the fungus has been discovered to reproduce asexually. Being asexual, the fungus can reproduce all times of the year and no longer just when leaf litter is on the ground. The fungal spores have been discovered on leaves, saplings, trees, and even in the surrounding soils of the Ashes. Also, the fungus is likely evolving at a faster rate than once expected, creating more variants and therefore more fungal strains. Hymenoscyphus fraxineus spores are likely moved in the soil of nursery plants. It is also likely that the fungal spores are moved by abiotic factors such as wind and water. The spores may even be spread by insects. It is possible that the fungus may affect other trees within the same family – including olive, lilac, and jasmine. The fungus has spread throughout much of Europe (researchers also believe American Ash trees are susceptible) and is not the only invader found on these trees. The Emerald Ash Borer is also leading to the demise of Ash Trees. Researchers must find a way to battle this disease without spreading it further in order to save these trees, but this is a challenge. A possible place to start is with a thorough understanding of the life cycle of the fungus, according to the researchers at the University Exeter. This may allow the researchers to know when it is safe to transport infected trees and when not to. Hopefully, something will be able to be done to protect these trees before it’s too late. Article in Science Daily.
Brooke Florio, Senior in Biology