Invasive species — What exactly does that mean?

The term “invasive species” gets thrown around quite a bit in environmental science — but what exactly does it mean? If you’re thinking it’s something that “invades privacy,” or that it’s “a lot” of something, you’re on the right track.Parks & Recreation Infographic

A invasive species is a species that is not native to the area and can cause economic or environmental harm, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sometimes, they can even cause harm to your health. These species can be almost anything you can think of — bugs, plants, amphibians, fungus, you name it. A good example of this is trout in the Great Lakes — it’s native there. Trout has been in those lakes for decades upon decades. But, let’s say we put trout in Yellowstone park where it doesn’t have a population. They will start reproducing quickly, interrupting the cycle of life within Yellowstone’s wildlife. Other species start to get threatened and could eventually disappear from the area.

Let’s put it into perspective: Almost half of the world’s endangered species is caused by invasive species, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Why should we care about invasive species here in Ohio? Because it’s everywhere and many times, we don’t even notice it. A big one that’s getting a lot of attention here in Ohio is Asian Carp — which isn’t native to our area. Asian Carp is an extremely competitive species and is usually the predator to many other species, according to the National Park Service.  Right now, it’s heading all the way from Illinois to the Great Lakes, including Lake Erie, which flows into the Cuyahoga River and Ohio River. As of right now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a plan to stop them in their path with water electric fences and a few other ways, but the plan needs money. The longer the plan stalls, the closer this species gets to Ohio.

Many of the communities along the Cuyahoga River use it as a resource. For example, Akron’s Bhutanese community likes to use it for food resources — catching fish and eating it. Not only can Asian Carp take away other food populations, but researchers believe that they can damage water quality, posing a risk for human health, according to the National Park Service.

Fish aren’t the only issue when it comes to Ohio’s invasive species, but so are plants. Cuyahoga National Valley Park, which the river runs through, has plenty like autumn olive. This plant is a tree-like bush that takes nutrients out of the soil, leading to the downfall of many other species. One time, I took part in the park’s “Super Service Saturday” in connection with Kent State University in 2016. It was a group of about 30 of us and at the time, they were building the towpath trail. We split into groups, and they taught us about the invasive species we absolutely had to take out along the trail — one of them being autumn olive. By the end of the day, six hours later, we had more autumn olive in our midst than people.

This semester, we’re looking into the Cuyahoga River. My colleagues and I plan to examine which invasive species the river is battling. Hopefully, in a few weeks, I can give you guys a clearer picture of what all is in the river, and what’s being done about it.

Stay tuned to our blog posts on this site, too — we’re going to be talk about much more than just invasive species.

In the meantime, want to learn more about how the Ohio Department of Natural Resources helps keep invasive species out of our waterways? Check out this video:

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