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Battle with invasive species continues

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POSTED: March 30, 2014 3:07 p.m.

For as long as there have been humans, there has been trade.
There is a synergy in trade that allows trade partners to produce more products and wealth collectively through trade than they could individually without trade. Farm and forest products are a large part of trade. When we ship our products we have to take care to ship only the intended product and not any unwanted or unintended hitchhikers like weeds, diseases, animals or insects that could infest the destination country and harm their crops and products.
The American chestnut was devastated by a new strain of fungus unintentionally imported with Chinese chestnut trees. Dutch elm disease wiped out American elm when the smaller European elm bark beetle was imported on untreated saw logs. It is not just the products themselves that can bring in pests, often the packing and packaging can be the carrier for the pest. That is why we kiln dry the lumber used to make shipping pallets. The drying kills insects that could survive shipping and emerge into a new continent and wreak havoc on the crops and ecology of our trading partners.
We all saw firsthand the results that can occur when shipping pallets that had not been kiln dried were used to ship goods from northeast Asia into the port of Savannah in 2002. What we came to call the red bay ambrosia beetle emerged from the pallets and started munching on our red bay trees, the closest thing to its normal diet in China. Red bay was the prime wood used to panel the captains’ cabins on sailing ships. I dare you to today find a living red bay in coastal Georgia big enough to be a saw log.
When new species are introduced, whether intentionally, as in the case of kudzu, or by mistake as in the case of red bay ambrosia beetle, and the net effect is harmful to the local economy or environment, we call those invasive species. Invasives tend to push out and take the place of their local counterparts and change the local environment. We have a lot of invasives in coastal Georgia thanks to the success of our ports. We love the ports and want to see them continue to grow, but we also need to be on the lookout for any unwanted stowaways.
The people and agencies trying to control the existing invasives have formed a management group to cooperate on enhancing control efforts. Friday, the third annual Coastal Georgia Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (Coastal Georgia CISMA) Workshop was held at the Coastal EMC Conference Room in Midway. There was something for everybody.
For invasive plants, we have cogongrass, tallow (popcorn) tree and sand pine. For insects we have the red bay beetle here and emerald ash borer on its way. Cuban tree frog has made a home on Jekyll Island, Africanized honey bee in the southwest corner of the state and Burmese python threatening from Florida. For aquatic species, the flathead catfish continues to be an issue in the Altamaha in spite of significant management progress. Marine species include lionfish and Asian tiger shrimp disrupting marine ecology.
Jekyll Island appears to be a hot spot of invasives management on the Georgia coast. In addition to tallow tree and Cuban tree frog, research is being done on feral cat impact on Jekyll Island wildlife. The housecat is currently ranked as the No. 1 threat to the songbird population, followed by cell phone towers and loss of habitat. The Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) program for feral cats on Jekyll may be decreasing the feral cat population on the Island, but hard facts on predation and attrition are hard to come by.
A UGA grad student is trying to answer some of these questions through research for his dissertation. Feral cats on Jekyll are being fitted with KittyCams — motion-activated video cameras that capture 30 hours of cat activity.
Some of the questions he hopes to answer are: What proportion of these cats are hunters vs. non-hunters? How many kills per week are the cats making? What wildlife makes up their prey? What preys on these cats? What kills the cats, other than curiosity?
The technology is rather remarkable but can be embarrassing. It seems one of these “Geraldo Rivera” cats strolled into one of the homes on the island and the folks were not wearing many clothes. He didn’t say, and I didn’t ask, if the National Security Agency was funding his research.

Gardner lives in Keller and is the UGA extension agent for Glynn County, serving South Bryan.

 

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