Invasive species. You most likely have heard the term. To anyone who has experienced their wrath, you might define them as: nasty, damaging, horrific, scary, all of the above. But, for those who have not, according to scientists, they are actually defined as: a species that is not native to a specific location (an introduced species), and that has a tendency to spread to a degree believed to cause damage to the environment, human economy or human health.
So, what makes an invasive species ‘ spread to a degree believed to cause damage to the environment, human economy or human health’ you may ask? Well they are extremely fast growing and usually reproduce quickly and in large numbers. Since they are not from the area where they have been introduced, they lack natural predators to slow their spread. The species that are native to the area where the invasive species has been introduced, lack defense mechanisms to fight off the invader: a perfect recipe for these species to take over.
But what are the actual impacts of invasive species? Let’s start with three aquatic invasive species taking hold across Canada. First off, is the infamous zebra mussel. Zebra mussels are D-shaped, fingernail-sized mollusks with light and dark brown stripes. Unlike other mollusks, they have hair-like filaments called byssal threads which they use to attach themselves to hard surfaces such as boats, docks, water-intake pipes and even the shells of other mussels. What makes them so impactful, is that their populations can reach very high densities (more than 10,000 mussels per square meter). This means that infrastructure such as docks, water intakes, boats and other solid surfaces are likely to become covered in the mussels, greatly affecting their purpose and use.
When asked If someone can name an invasive species, most name a fish or insect, but many plants are highly invasive as well and some can cause more impacts than their more popular counterparts. Take flowering rush for example. Often seen as a nice addition to an outdoor water garden, this species has been classified as one of five invasive plants that have had a major environmental impact in Canada. It produces hundreds of pea-sized bulbils that easily detach from the plant and very quickly germinate and make new plants. Once established, it creates very thick mats of vegetation that is extremely difficult to remove. Our native species don’t favour this plant, so it continues to grow and reduces food possibilities for other plants and can even reduce fish spawning areas.
What about something that Is growing right in the water? In comes didymo or more commonly referred to a ‘rock snot’, which is a type of algae that can form massive blooms causing significant negative impact to freshwater fish, plants and invertebrates through habitat and food web alteration. Reasons for its rapid spread are unclear, but climate change could be helping its rapid expansion.
In the face of even these three invaders, amongst 100 more, you might be asking yourself what you can do? Its often easier to start small, so here are three actions you can take to start tackling this prevalent and increasing threat to our landscapes:
- Learn what they look like and report them. By learning what they look like and reporting their sightings, you are contributing to their early detection, resulting in action to prevent their further spread. If we learn of where these species are before they get a foot hold, we may be able to stop them. To learn about the species In your province or territory, along with the reporting system to use, go HERE.
- Prevent their spread. If you like to go outside, bike, fish, boat, kayak etc. you might be spreading invasive species without even knowing about it. Be sure to check your gear for invasive plants and animals before moving to a new location. To learn more about this, visit our website HERE.
- Tackle them. Through the EcoAction Program, we have partnered with the Invasive Species Council of BC (ISC BC) and the Saskatchewan Invasive Species Council (SISC) to work with local partners in both provinces and remove aquatic invasive species, resulting in restored shoreline and wetland areas. We worked with ISC BC and SISC to create an “Adopt an Aquatic Area Tookit”. The purpose of the toolkit is to assist other stakeholder groups in protecting our precious aquatic habitats by effectively addressing aquatic invasive species issues. The toolkit is a step-by-step guide on how to adopt and aquatic area impacted by invasive species and how to restore and manage it. Find the toolkit here: CCIS-Adopt-and-Aquatic-Area-Toolkit