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November 2010 cover image Kiss Me!

Tackling Invasives

Volunteers become citizen scientists to help combat a growing problem.

By Kathryn McGranahan

Invasive species have a long history of negative, widespread effects throughout the nation, but a state as big and diverse as Texas is especially vulnerable. Apple snails attack the Texas rice crop, and imported fire ants have spread across Texas. Invasive species, or any species that harms a foreign ecosystem, are a well-known and well-lamented threat to Texas.

Invasives rob natives of precious resources, such as oxygen or sunlight, and disrupt the delicate balance an ecosystem needs to survive. They prey on our resources for food, water, recreation and more. The United States spends $137 billion combating invasive species every year. And because they are without the natural limits of their own ecosystems, invasive species can spread farther and faster than natives.

Tracking, monitoring and destroying invasive species is an expansive and expensive job. So, in 2006, a partnership of conservation groups implemented the Invaders of Texas program to train a network of volunteer “citizen scientists” to detect and respond to invasive species. With proven success in annual bird counts, the volunteer approach has gained traction in the environmental arena: More than 900 trained volunteers in the invasives program have recorded more than 9,000 observations.

“Our citizen scientists have put in more than 3,500 man-hours,” says Travis Gallo, coordinator and researcher for the program. “That’s a lot of staff time.”

The results are paying off. “A few years ago a citizen scientist found the first and only infestation of Cogongrass in East Texas,” Gallo says. “It was reported to the Texas Forest Service. They have eradicated it and continue to monitor that site.”

The volunteer program can be found at Texasinvasives.org, an online partnership managed by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin and supported by groups like the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The website has an invasive species database with photographs and maps of recorded sightings, as well as information on how to become a citizen scientist through online training or local workshops.

Texasinvasives.org provides the tools to become a citizen scientist through two methods. Volunteers can complete online training or attend a local workshop (locations and times provided online) to join their local satellite group. The workshops provide training for GPS use and species identification, among other skills. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis, so act fast! The website also provides the Voyager Online Training Program for those who prefer working alone.

Other available resources include website tutorials, data sheets, trainer documents and a volunteer handbook covering topics such as data collection and a list of invasive species and their native look-alikes. These resources provide the necessary tools for identifying, collecting and destroying invasive species before they spread beyond control.

To learn more about citizen scientists or about how to join their ranks, go to www.texasinvasives.org.

 

 

 

 

 

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