Ecosystem Services – The Significance of Contributions by Invasive Plant Species

The threat to natural systems by invasive plant species was the topic of a one day symposium at the annual meetings of the Soil and Water Conservation Society. Experts in biological systems, ecological restoration, computational technologies and policy development spoke to a large audience of conservationists and practitioners. The list of speakers included representatives from across the country, including California, New York, Michigan, Washington, D.C. and Nebraska.

The goal of the symposium was to gain an understanding of the contribution that invasive plant species are making to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. While invasive species continue to threaten many natural and man-made environments and most efforts are in their control or removal, they do provide services to these ecosystems, which have yet to be quantified on a range of scales. The invited speakers addressed several topics, including 1) the current state of invasive plant species, 2) ecosystem services related to invasive plant species, 3) research for quantifying ecosystem services by invasive plant species, 4) mapping invasive plant species in relation to ecosystem services and 5) policy related to ecosystem services and invasive plant species.

Invasive plant species can establish in diverse environments and, with the increase in human mobility, they are no longer restricted to isolated pockets in remote parts of the world. Cheatgrass in rangelands, purple loosestrife in wetlands, and saltcedar in riparian areas are examples of invasive plant species that are common to the United States and can be found in monocultures and patches covering many thousands of hectares. Across the world, invasive plant species like water hyacinth, cogon grass, and mile-a-minute weed have choked waterways, altered fire regimes, or caused the abandonment of farmland due to their dominating and persistent characteristics.

Goals for managing invasive plant species could be the eradication, reduction or containment of a population. The methods available for obtaining management goals include mechanical, chemical, cultural and biological. Under the concept of ecosystem service valuation, a whole new approach may be warranted to help expand current efforts to effectively manage invasive plant species.

Created by Lori Martin

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