Lionfish Lionfish

Why Are Invasive Species So Bad?

By: Jenna L. Eckel

 

If you are in the Philadelphia-area, you’ve probably had run-ins with the Asian lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula). We unofficially enlisted ourselves on a mission to smash and crush these invasive nuisances during the summer of 2020. Perhaps these actions were a therapeutic way for us to deal with a pandemic, but ultimately we were protecting our environment.

Continue reading to learn more about invasive species and how you can help.

What is an Invasive Species?

According to the North American Invasive Species Management Association, “the term ‘invasive’ is used for aggressive species that grow and reproduce rapidly, displace native species and cause major disturbance to the areas in which they are present.”

Invasive species can be animals, plants or other organisms that do not naturally grow or materialize in the area. These species cause harm to those natural in the environment, can affect human health and create economic consequences.

What are examples of Invasive Species?

Before the lanternfly, it was the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys). You know, the oddly shaped, smelly bug that invaded our region in 2001. Additional invasive species that are found in our region are: Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica), zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha), Asian tiger mosquitos (Aedes albopictus), Asian swamp eels (Monopterus albus), flathead catfishes (Pylodictis olivaris) and snakeheads (Channa spp.).

Swimming alone in it’s own exhibit at Adventure Aquarium, you’ll find the red lionfish (Pterois volitans), an invasive species now found in the Caribbean Sea, along the coast of Florida and Mediterranean Sea. While the red lionfish appears to be beautiful with a flowy mane of bold red and brown striped spines, this fish has no natural predators in its invaded range making it extremely dangerous.

Since red lionfish eat herbivores, and herbivores are necessary to eat algae from coral reefs, the introduction of this species is having adverse effects on Florida Coral Reef Tract. In addition to the introduction of the red lionfish to the environment, these reefs were already suffering from an unidentified pathogen which causes stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD). This combination has created the perfect storm and led to coral species being listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. As part of the AZA Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project, Adventure Aquarium houses and cares for corals while researchers continue to better understand SCTLD.

What Harm Do Invasive Species Cause?

Invasive species, like the red lionfish, threaten the food webs of their invaded habitat, reduce biodiversity, alter habitats, have detrimental effects on ecosystems and economies and cause other species to become endangered or extinct.

The African cichlids (Cichlidae) that swim with Genny and Button in Hippo Haven have been affected by invasive species. Cichlids located in Africa’s Lake Victoria are considered “mostly extinct” after the Nile perch (Lates niloticus) was introduced as a food fish in the 1950s. It quickly became the top predator in it’s newly invaded space.

What Can You Do To Help?

First, educate yourself about what is considered invasive in your neighborhood. The USDA, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and The Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife are all great resources to help you learn about unfamiliar animals or plants in your backyard.

Then, be sure to curb the spread of invasive species by becoming familiar with native species. If you can, plant native species and remove any invasive plants. When working in your garden or going on a hike, clean your shoes to remove any insects or plant parts that may spread to new places.

Never release unwanted pets into the wild. This dangerous practice is how the red lionfish became an invasive species off the Florida Coast. Since red lionfish have an expandable stomach, these fish eat and eat until they are physically unable to anymore. This is part of what makes them such a dangerous species. With no predators, these fish have been known to reduce populations of prey in their range by up to 90 percent in just a matter of weeks.

Lastly, participate in awareness events, like National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW). Adventure Aquarium wants to make it easy for you to participate virtually by sharing informative social media posts and educating our guests during their visits.