Sep
10
Filed Under (SW2) by Natalie Ferguson on 10-09-2010

Imagine this: it is a typical Thursday night and you find yourself trying to choose a movie to occupy your time. You are in the mood for a film that could both thrill and provoke thought. Sound familiar? Before you settle on the most recent blockbuster, consider a less conventional cinematic experience, one that offers excitement, stimulation, and raw truth. Although a documentary on invasive species was hardly what you had in mind, “Strange Days on Planet Earth” gives an experience well worth the time.

People generally do not become involved in a problem unless they are directly effected by its outcome. The film examines several areas of the world where the havoc invasive species have wreaked on the environment has directly effected humans. In New Orleans, an invasion of a termite has led to the destruction of the historic homes in the French Quarter. In Guam, children are being attacked by the foreign Brown Tree Snakes. Out of all the examples given, most alarming was the situation in Lake Victoria, Uganda, with water hyacinth. A beautiful and harmless looking plant has directly lead to countless crocodile bites and diseases inflicted on locals. The species had completely canopied the lake, clogging fishing lines and creating stagnant pools. Without the flow of water, diseases such as malaria, have begun to spread more quickly. They have also created waters ideal for crocodiles. As the crocodile population sky rockets, the fish population stays the same. With the lack of food, the crocodiles seek human flesh to satisfy their palate. By bringing light to how invasive species directly effect humanity, the movie uncovers a moral underside the issue. Many scientists may argue that the death of native species is in itself  a moral issue, and should have been more heavily focused on in the film. In reality, the percent of the population who are emotionally moved into action over a lost species of plant is very minimal. By focusing on how invasive species pose a threat to humans and not just native species, the film-makers inspire viewers into action; a feat that would otherwise be very difficult to accomplish.

Some may criticize the film for over-dramatizing the problem of invasive species in order to draw viewers. In many ways, this can be distracting to viewers seeking the model unimaginative documentary. However, for the rest of America, the exhilarating methods National Graphic employs are exactly what scientists in the field of preventing the spread of invasive species need. The hype caused by the film will cause a domino effect of awareness. People may find themselves checking their shoes for New Zealand mud snails or avoiding planting foreign species to avoid their spread. While the documentary offers enjoyment over merit, perhaps hype is exactly what is necessary for this issue. So next time you find yourself in the position of not knowing which movie to watch, “Strange Days on Planet Earth” should be the obvious choice: for entertainment that will also inspire action.

Sep
10
Filed Under (SW2) by Albert Chen on 10-09-2010

Habitat loss stands as the biggest source of extinction today. Right next to it is the threat of invasive species. Demonstrated by the numerous examples in National Geographic’s Strange Days on Planet Earth documentary, exotic species are altering the compositions of the world’s ecosystems. What makes this otherwise natural phenomenon alarming is the rate at which invaders are introduced to new parts of the world and the rate at which species are phased out. The biotic background for evolution is accelerating at a pace determined by compounding number of species involved and increasing exchange rates. Competitive interactions lead to niche displacements and ultimately in many cases, extinction. In a study attempting to simulate the worst case scenario of invasions, the world is depicted as a supercontinent with no geographic barriers while retaining its abiotic characteristics such as climate and landscape. Massive extinction would predictably result, with species losses of 65.7% for land mammals, 47.6% for land birds, 35% for butterflies, and 70.5% for angiosperms. If current trends continue, our age will be seen as the sixth great extinction, making it comparable to the famous End Cretaceous extinction that ended the existence of dinosaurs.

A lot of times I ask myself whether the species mixing is inevitable, a product of our own movement, and whether all the attention put on the subject is worth it at all. I think it is our ethical responsibility to at least attempt species management, especially if endangerment of extinction is man-made.

The methods used to fight invasive species seem to have their trade offs. Local efforts to physically remove the invader is selective and inefficient. I think that the educational value of community involvement is the biggest plus; knowing how issues directly effects the people is the essence of good citizenship. Closely monitoring areas for invaders makes prevention for feasible and seems to be the most efficient method. I don’t quite know what the termite control method actually does.

http://www.pnas.org/content/98/10/5446.full

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VJ1-4CX6XXG-2&_user=38557&_coverDate=09%2F01%2F2004&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_origin=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1457249298&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000004358&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=38557&md5=21a00aef54349a33d894ef1754f4071d&searchtype=a

Sep
10
Filed Under (SW2) by Michael Shaughnessy on 10-09-2010

Miconia first arrived to Hawaii from Mexico as a nursery plant in 1961, a journey that was facilitated by humans.  Their abilities to grow quickly, disperse seeds on a massive scale, and suffocate native plants have allowed them to spread across 10,000 acres of the Big Island.  The large leaves of the Miconia compete for sunlight with the native plants with great success.  As soon as the native plants and their roots die out, the soil is only held together by the roots of the Miconia which do not penetrate as deeply or cover as much of an area.  The loosening of the soil and the channeling of rain water by the Miconia leaves have the potential for causing widespread erosion and large scale landslides.

Spearheading the cause to rid Hawaii of the Miconia are David Duffy and Greg Asner.  Together they have tracked and mapped the locations of Miconia invasion.  Asner uses aerial images of light reflections along with GPS coordinates of specific leaves he finds in the forest to identify problem areas before they get out of control.  There are various volunteer efforts working as well, mainly attempting to control and contain the problem of the Miconia invasion.

While David Duffy and Greg Asner are certainly working hard to contain the Miconia, the effort on the whole could be prioritized at a much higher level and performed with more manpower.  If Duffy’s assessment of the problem and prediction of future issues is accurate, then the problem seems to be more threatening than other people see it to be.  In a place like Hawaii, where erosion is already an issue, the Miconia invasion’s threat to worsen the problem with massive landslides should be considered more serious.  Concerning the efforts to contain the Miconia, I wonder especially how the plants can be removed or killed without causing more of a problem.  Already the soil is loosened by the lack of roots, so if Miconia are then removed, will there be anything to prevent the occurrence of a landslide?  Perhaps some other mode of prevention has been instituted that I am unaware of.

Sep
10
Filed Under (SW2) by Kyle Rand on 10-09-2010

An invasive species, identified as Miconia calvescens, has caused a widespread scare in Hawai’i over the past decade.  Recently added to the Hawai’i State Noxious Weed List, this plant has caused major destruction across thousands of acres of all of the Hawaiian islands.  Miconia are capable of growing to be around fifty feet tall, with enormous oval-shaped leaves that cast an overbearing shadow across the ground floor of Hawaiian tropical jungles.  They were introduced in 1961 as a house plant from South America, when they quickly dispersed from homely gardens to take over surrounding land.  Exchange of the plants between gardeners greatly facilitated the growth of the plant throughout all of the Hawaiian islands.

The threat that Miconia pose is one of habitat destruction.  They quickly grow into large shrubs or medium sized trees that take up a lot of area, and their leaves have gained the name “Purple Plague” and “Green Cancer” as a result of their coloring, a dark shade of green on top, and a purple shade on bottom.  The size of the leaves is what causes the most damage; they are so large that they shade the bottom of the tropics from the sun by forming an expansive canopy that blocks any light from entering the lower floors of the jungle, as well as funneling rain in hard streams that beats the soil and strips it of any nutrients.  The canopy of leaves deprives other species of the sunlight they need to perform the light-dependent stages of photosynthesis, and ultimately kill these native species of Hawai’i.

Greg Asner, an ecologist who works with the National Geographic team on eradicating this invasive species from the Hawaiian islands, has ingeniously changed U2 spy planes from the cold war to use to take light-sensitive images of entire forest canopies, and compares the images to measured light reflection readings from the air and from the ground, to identify large areas of Miconia growth, which teams are then able to search for and uproot.  This is a very complex, and rather interesting, method of localizing invasive species, however it appears it may be too slow to get rid of a species that grows so fast.  Unfortunately, other options would likely include harsh chemicals that could harm nearby native species, so it seems that, for now, the solution will work as long as teams work quickly.  Preserving the biodiversity in the Hawaiian islands is essential, so eradicating this invasive weed should become a large effort to ensure success.

Image taken from http://www.hawaiiecoregionplan.info/threats.html

Image taken from http://www.pbs.org/strangedays/episodes/invaders/experts/miconia.html

Sep
10
Filed Under (SW2) by Brianca King on 10-09-2010

Formosan subterranean termites have found a new home in New Orleans, Louisiana and the southern United States. It has been speculated that these termites reached America just after the end of World War II. When American troops were packing up to return home from Japan and China they used the local wood to make crates for transportation. No one had any clue that there were extra travelers on board the ships roaming within the crates. When the troops landed in Louisiana they dumped the crates there and the termites began their attack. Not all invasive species are able to survive in a new environment and are sometimes out competed by the native species. In this case the Formosan subterranean termites were able to survive in New Orleans because it is hot and sticky, resembling their home climate. Also the fact that New Orleans is practically made of wood also contributed to their ability to survive. They were able to compete with the local termite species because they live above and below the ground whereas the local termites only live underground. These termites have become so much of a problem that the question isn’t if you will get termites, it’s when will you get termites and how bad will it be. The people of New Orleans can no longer trust the stability of the houses they live in.

Entomologist Claudia Riegel, lead investigator, realized that taking on the task of exterminating these termites would be a bit much and instead decided to try and manage them. She uses the termites habits against them. These termites stick together and more importantly they eat together. Bait stations were set up underground all throughout the city. These bait stations are pieces of wood with tasty stuff on them which of course attracts termites. The purpose of these bait stations are to cut off the supply lines to the main nests.The strategy used by Dr. Riegel was very smart. I am curious to know how this strategy worked and if it has made a significant difference. I feel that if this approach is not effective the next step should be try and eliminate the termites on a larger scale.

Learn more here

Sep
10
Filed Under (SW2) by Bryan Lockwood on 10-09-2010

The film, “Strange Days on Planet Earth” is an informative documentary about invasive species and the havoc they bring to vulnerable ecosystems. One foreign invader described in the movie was the subterranean termite, which was introduced to the U.S. through crates shipped from Japan after World War II. This insect demolished U.S. cities in the South, especially in places where most buildings consist of mostly wood. The video implements a variety of special effects along with witness accounts of the devastation caused by the invasive species. This not only conveys the extent of this issue to the audience, but also create an emotional appeal as the viewer empathizes with the victims of the termites’ rampage. All of these factors come together to effectively present a case against Subterranean Termites that envokes a desire to take action against the rising invasion.

After detailing the consequences of the subterranean termites’ attacks, the film gives an account of a very unsuccessful attempt at using biocontrol to offset the problem of rapidly spreading species in the Pacific. To deal with an overabundance of rats on the island, monitor lizards were introduced. Unfortunately, the nocturnal rats further thrived in the new presence of the diurnal lizards, although other species suffered from the “controlled invasion.” This showed how sensitive ecosystems are to biocontrol, and the results of the process can be very unpredictable and possibly hazardous to the organisms of a given habitat.

On the other hand, “Strange Days on Planet Earth” depicted one example in Uganda’s Lake Victoria where an invasive weevil was introduced to combat another invasive species known as water hyacinth. The plant blocked sunlight from reaching under the surface of the lake, so entire ecosystems suffered as the world’s second largest freshwater lake was under attack. Human populations near Lake Victoria suffered from increased animal attacks, disease, lack of transportation, and other factors derived from the presence of the hyacinth. Due to careful research and a little desperation, an invasive weevil was introduced to the lake. Five years later, the presence of the suffocating water hyacinth was significantly decreased and the ecosystem had returned to its former state of beauty and importance.

Overall, the film effectively captured the attention of the audience through stunning visual effects and incredible accounts while still presenting facts that depict the growing presence of invasive species all over the world. Many documentaries detail precise and accurate info, but often times that info is viewed as boring or uninteresting by, generally, the younger generation. The flexibility and accessability of “Strange Days on Planet Earth” make it an intense, inspiring film about a problem that exists all around us, whether we realize it or not. By giving adequate info and helping viewers realize the importance of invasive species prevention, the film truly presses the true meaning behind the central questions in the film: “ What would it cost us to be more careful with invasive species? What would it cost us not to?”

Sep
10
Filed Under (SW2) by Sean Dickey on 10-09-2010

Sometime before 1989, the water hyacinth, a native to South America, was introduced to Lake Victoria, Uganda. It only took another seven years before the aquatic plant covered eighty percent of the lake. This massive cover created extreme problems for native fishers and inhabitants of the region. The water hyacinth made it nearly impossible for fishermen to navigate the lake, essentially making fishing impossible. The lake, a source of water for the surrounding are, fell victim to rotting vegetation which effectively contaminated the water. As a result of such sub-par water conditions, Lake Victoria became a large breeding ground for variety of diseases such as malaria and schistosomiasis. Schistosomiasis is a disease that is carried by a parasite that lives in the water snails of the lake.

The main reason that the water hyacinth was so successful at Lake Victoria was due to lack of a natural predator. In South America, the aquatic plant was kept in check by the South American weevil. The weevil attacks the water hyacinth in numerous ways. The adults feed on the leaves of the plant by eating holes in them. As a result the plant takes in less sunlight and begins to sink and die off. The larvae of the weevil live near the roots of the water hyacinth and feed on the plant for nourishment. When the larvae become adults, they swim to the top and join the others on the feasting of their natural enemy.

In the video, Strange Days on Planet Earth: Invaders, James A. Ogwang a Ugandan biological control entomologist took the primary responsibility of disrupting the takeover of Lake Victoria by the water hyacinth. Ogwang decided to import the weevil in hopes that it could quell the takeover of Lake Victoria. After testing the weevil on a few plant species native to Lake Victoria, Ogwang put his plan to work. After about five years, the amount of water hyacinth in Lake Victoria had been greatly reduced. Although this example of biocontrol was successful, this situation is one of its kind.

Some concerns about the use of the South American weevil to manage the water hyacinth are whether or not this relationship can be sustained in an environment different from their homeland, will the weevil only feed on the water hyacinth or will it eventually attack native species to Lake Victoria, and can the water hyacinth be contained by the weevils alone. As for the last concern, it is now well known that the water hyacinth made a resurgence around 2005. Currently, there haven’t been any widely reported issues with the weevil, so it is to be assumed that it has stuck to feeding on the water hyacinth alone.

Sep
10
Filed Under (SW2) by Jania Arcia-Ramos on 10-09-2010

 

http://www.sciencedaily.com/images/2008/10/081014134102-large.jpg

http://www.forestryimages.org/images/3072×2048/0002098.jpg

The documentary “Strange Days on Planet Earth” centralizes the point that humans are “fueling the traffic” of species through global transportation, an action that can become detrimental to society. Before airplanes, trains, or cars existed, species migrations were limited because they were bounded by natural barriers such as oceans or mountains; as a result, those migrations would only occur at a very slow rate. However, the development of modern transportation has created species without borders who can migrate to areas that were previously unreachable, and who can do so at an incredibly faster rate.

Often, people are not aware of the dangers that these accelerated migrations can bring about, but as the film effectively depcits, species without borders can be extremely hazardous. In New Orleans, for instance, many people have lost their homes to the invasive formosan subterranean termites that were introduced to the area after WWII. Originally from Tokyo, the specie made its way to the U.S. through the transportation of wooden crates that contained the belongings of soldiers who were coming home after the war. The climate and wooden houses of New Orleans have made the survival of the termites very formidable which has led to the suffering of many locals. Another issue brought on by the spread of invasive species is the increase of disease in Uganda due to Water Hyacinth.  This aquatic plant appeared on Lake Victoria in 1989, and has made the life of fishermen and other locals a disaster since. In Uganda, Water Hyacinth doesn’t have the local predator that it had in its native land, and therefore, it has been able to spread at an incredible rate, almost covering the entire lake. Its location not only makes it difficult for fishermen to get out to fishing waters, but since it covers the top of the water, it prohibits the passage of sun to plants laying below. Without sun, the plants rot and water becomes putrefied. This is bad news for the locals who obtain their drinking water directly from this lake, and who now have to face diseases due to the infected water.

As can be seen, invasive species is an important issue that needs to be addressed. Once species invade, it can be very difficult and extremly expensive to get rid of them. Therefore, it is necessary to be aware of the issue so that we can somehow try to prevent it because species without borders will eventually mean far less species, including less humans.

Sep
10
Filed Under (SW2) by Michael Reinsvold on 10-09-2010

“Strange Days on Planet Earth” is a short documentary narrated Edward Norton about invasive species.  It highlights several invasive species such as water hyacinth, Nile perch, termites, and Miconia. The film also has an excellent general overview of invasive species.  The documentary skillfully illustrates the effects an invasive species can have on the invaded cosystem, economy, and health of local humans.  All aspects of invasive species are covered in the film.  It discusses how invasive species are introduced into a new environment, what advantages they have over native species, and how they can cause massive collateral damage.  For example, the termites that invaded the south (New Orleans in particular) were brought to the United States in crates (accidentally) from Japan following their surrender in World War II.  The termites had one significant advantage over the indigenous termites.  The Japanese termites burrowed above ground as well as below, while the native termites burrowed only underground.  This allowed the termites to invade large areas and significantly number the native species.  The resulting cost is tens of millions in property damage.

But financial costs aren’t the only adverse side effects invasive species can cause.  The Miconia invasion in Hawaii is destabilizing the soil of the islands as it pushes out native plants.  During heavy rains the shallow roots of the Miconia fails to hold the soil, often resulting in landslides.  The efforts to combat the Miconia invasion costs millions of dollars. Without local efforts, the Miconia would likely overwhelm local plant species and cause severe ecological repercussions.  However, the Water Hyacinth causes health problems as well as financial and ecological.  It chokes the shorelines of Lake Victoria which provides stagnant water for malaria ridden mosquitoes and other disease bearing creatures.

The documentary does an excellent job of discussing the general impact of invasive species and the potential harm they can cause if left unmolested.  Given the massive international shipping and trading industries, the spread of invasive species is likely to increase.  If the industries continue to grow but the efforts against invasive species does not, invasive species will become a global catastrophe.  The film postulates that once geographic barriers are removed, as many as two-thirds of the Earth’s species could be made extinct in a mass survival-of-the-fittest free for all.

I personally believe that “Strange Days on Planet Earth” is an excellent documentary.  It discusses every aspect of invasive species with plenty of depth.  It seems incredible how easy it is for invasive species to be transported accidentally.  All it takes is a few plants or animals to devastate an ecosystem and cost billions of dollars.  The film was also incredibly illuminating.  I  never thought of invasive species being such a major problem, but after just that short documentary I am aware of how serious it really is.  “Strange Days on Planet Earth” is well constructed and extremely informative.

Sep
10
Filed Under (SW2) by Brandon Braxton on 10-09-2010

The economy right now in the United States isn’t very stable and people are losing many things they own most noticeable their homes.  However, in Louisiana it’s not because of money but because of an invasive species called the Formosan subterranean termite.  It is believed that the termites stowed away in the wood boxes that were made in China to send home stuff from World War II.  These insects live in enormous colonies and eat all wood.  One major reason these certain termites out competed native termites is because they form nests above ground rather than underground so they aren’t affected by bug spraying.  Formosan termites are an extremely destructive force due to their numbers and the amount of food (wood) they can consume and can cause significant structural damage to a house in months.

Regulating these alien species has been a difficult task.  Their numbers are so vast and it is hard to locate exactly where they are.   So far a biologist has placed tasty pieces of wood for termites underground for them to snack on.  When termites are detected, they are removed and the wood is replaced with a poison then the termites are dumped back in.  The termites will carry this poison back to the rest of the colony and ultimately destroy them.

This approach to rid of the termites appears effective.  First, it is easy to do and wont cost a lot of money.  Second, only the termite population will be affected since they are essentially killing themselves.  Last, it’s the only way I can think of that would penetrate into the termites nests.  The only problem I see is how we are going to be able to tell if this approach is actually working.  Also, by the time this poison reaches every nest and colony it will probably be too late and most homes will either have damage or be destroyed.   We need to think of something more swift in the attack of the termites because there isn’t much time and there is lots of ground to cover.

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