Evidence suggests that invasive plants on and around campus may be altering the local ecosystem and fostering changes that are having unintended consequences. Some of these changes can even be linked to increased incidence of Lyme Disease, Dr. Robert Bagchi, an assistant professor in the UConn Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, said.
One issue caused by the introduction of non-native species includes the explosive growth of Japanese Barberry bushes across the Northeast, a species that has often been blamed for the large number of deer ticks in recent years, which are a primary carrier of Lyme Disease, Bagchi said.
Bagchi cites the Japanese Barberry as a “nasty plant that proves hard to [eradicate].”
According to Scientific American, the Japanese Barberry provides ideal conditions for deer ticks to breed. The bushes shelter mice and provide a jumping off point to latch onto passing deer. The explosive spread of Japanese Barberry bushes has led to a similar expansion in the population of deer ticks.
These species have often been introduced intentionally, said biology doctoral student Henry Frye, citing several species that were brought to the U.S. in the 1800s for erosion control or as ornamentals.
“Often times they were originally planted for either decorative or functional purposes— the fancy term for this ‘propagule pressure’ —, before people were aware that they could have harmful impacts on the environment,” Frye said.
While the invasive species are not new to the local ecosystems in human terms, in evolutionary terms they are brand new and existing species have not had suitable time to adapt to their presence, Frye said. The invasive species have caused massive damage, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates the resulting costs to be around $78.5 billion per year.
One common example of this is the damage caused by invasive gypsy moths. These moths defoliate trees, Bagchi said, and are on the rise.
“The species is now spreading throughout eastern North America,” Bagchi said.
Invasive species can be found on campus, according to the UConn Department of Horticulture. Burning Bush is an ornamental bush that has escaped into the wild and has rapidly spread over the course of several decades, and it has the potential to displace native species and destroy the natural ecosystem that is present in New England.
The alteration of natural ecosystems across the Northeast by invasive species is a dangerous precedent to allow, oftentimes linked to negative occurrences such as the spread of deer ticks carrying the pathogens for Lyme Disease among others, according to the Department of Horticulture.
There are measures being taken by UConn to counteract the harmful effects of invasive plants on campus and throughout the state, Frye said. For example, the UConn-affiliated Connecticut Invasive Plants Working Group concentrates on ending the threat that invasive species post to Connecticut. However, it would be extremely difficult to completely eradicate invasives manually as it would require “years of work” and intensive manual labor as each specific organism is destroyed, Frye said.
Though there are some measures that can be taken, such as gypsy moth populations being controlled by a certain type of fungus, Bagchi said, there is no one set solution for eliminating them.
“They have been relatively successful in controlling gypsy moth populations in certain years, but haven’t arrested the spread of the insect,” Bagchi said.
Peter Goggins is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.