Filed Under (SW1) by Josh McGrath on 03-09-2010

The recent economic setback in our country and around the world has had negative effects on almost everyone’s way of life. Abandoning a pet and destroying an ecosystem, however, is no way to solve that problem. Yet people are doing just that. Burmese pythons are large snakes that can strangle and eat prey as large as alligators, and they are being released into the wild by irresponsible pet owners. The snakes can weigh up to 250 pounds and their top slither speeds can reach almost 20 miles per hour.  With such a fast pace, certain pythons have already made it 100 miles towards the opposite coast of the United States. Scientists believe that there are roughly 30,000 nonnative giant snakes living in the wild in the Everglades, and that those snakes could thrive even more if introduced into other states such as California.

The Burmese Python has the potential to kill off numerous other species and establish itself as a dominant force throughout the United States. Its large size and quick movements are reasons it is so abundant in its natural habitat, and could be in the United States. The main enemies of pythons are larger cats such as lions and tigers, but there are really none of those in the US. The only real opposition present for the python is the alligator and even that is an even battle. Beavers, like most animals in the US, do not eat pythons and would simply be tasty treats for the snakes.

With roughly one-third of the United States as a suitable living environment, my question is how long will it take the python to cover that area? The government has already begun to try and kill of the python, but to no avail. The best thing we can hope for now would probably be a really cold winter everywhere in the US.

Picture can be found here.

The invasion of the Zebra mussels began in the 1980’s and they were followed by their close relative the Quagga mussel. Zebra mussels tend to inhabit hard substrate while Quagga inhabit both hard and soft substrate. Quagga migrate deeper than Zebra mussels and invade a wider range of aquatic environments. In 2007 Quagga mussels were found in the Colorado River Aqueduct System that serves Southern California. They were also found in the San Vicente Reservoir in San Diego County. In 2008 Zebra mussels were found in San Justo Reservoir. The mussels act as water filters and remove phytoplankton, zooplankton and other small particles that are a source of food for other aquatic animals like zooplankton and small fish, altering the food web. The mussels also collect organic pollutants in their tissues at extreme levels greater than the average concentration in the environment. The waste they produce lowers oxygen levels which lowers the pH to acidic levels and creates toxic byproducts. Quagga and Zebra mussels clog pipelines and screens that take up water and reduces the pumping capacity for power and treatment facilities. For boaters the mussels clog engines and cause overheating and steering problems. It’s almost like the problems caused by the Quagga and Zebra mussel are infinite.

The Zebra and Quagga mussels have the potential to create serious issues in the future, especially for California. The state is already in a water crisis and all reservoirs that get raw water from the Colorado River have been exposed to Quagga mussels. I feel that threats like these should be publicized and given more attention so that everyone can be aware of what can happen. I’ve lived in California my whole life and have never heard of invasive species. Different ways on how people can help with the spread of the mussels should also be advertised. In regards to the environment the food web being altered can starve a lot of the native aquatic species and throw some aquatic environments out of balance. I think this could have a domino effect and cause more problems in society.

I’m still a little unclear about how these mussels are spread and what is the primary pathway by which they are transported to different environments. How do the Zebra and Quagga mussel reproduce? I’m also curious to know what measures are being taken to counter the issues caused by these mussels. I wonder if a species can be introduced into areas where the mussels are a problem and eliminate them without further disrupting aquatic ecosystems. I’m interested to know how these mussels interact with environments in which they are native and can analyzing them in their natural habitat lead to key ways to reducing their effect on habitats they invade.

Quagga and Zebra Mussels in California

Image Link

Filed Under (SW1) by Haley Ishimatsu on 02-09-2010

The New Zealand Mudsnail is a very small invertebre that has the potential of causing big problems. The animal is only about 3-5 millimeters in length. However, a single snail is capable of producing a colony of 40 million in only 1 year. The New Zealand Mudsnail is mostly in the western states including California, Idaho, Montana, Utah and many others. It is believed to impact the food chain for the native trout. In some rivers and streams, the mudsnail makes up to 95% of the invertabre biomass and could blanket a stream’s bottom. This could reduce the insect species diversity by killing the insect eggs that share the bottom of the river floor.

The NewZealand Mudsnail infestation may have been helped by fishermen and hikers. As the cross the streams, the people could pick up the animal on their boots and clothes. They then travel to another body of water where the mudsnail drops off and starts to thrive. As of the present, there are very few ways to eradicate this invasive species. Chemicals could affect other life forms that live in the same area as the New Zealand Mudsnail and physical removal would only aid in transporting the eggs. For now, the best solution is to prevent the spread of the snails. This is being done by the US National Park Service, who are increasing awarness of these critters and the threat that they pose to aquatic ecosystems.

Filed Under (SW1) by Natalie Ferguson on 02-09-2010

Fishermen beware: what may seem like a small rock in your shoe could easily be the culprit wreaking havoc in local ecosystems. The New Zealand Mudsnail , scientifically named Potamopyrgus antipodarum, is a tiny snail (about 3mm) with a shell that can vary from gray to brown. Contrary to their seemingly insignificant appearance, the New Zealand Mudsnails are an invasive species known to severely disrupt food chains and harm local aquatic life.

There are many features of the New Zealand Mudsnail that make it an excellent aquatic invasive species. As mentioned earlier, they are small and brown or gray, allowing them to be easily transferred via fishing equipment without being detected. They are also capable of surviving in many different temperature regimes and can survive up to 24 hours without water or up to 50 days in a damp environment. The mudsnails can reproduce quickly due to their asexuality and capacity for high density reproduction.

The small appearance and reproductive qualities of New Zealand Mudsnails has allowed them to rapidly make their way across the United States into California lakes and rivers. The snails originated in New Zealand but were found in the United Kingdom in as early as 1859. Throughout the twentieth century, the snails traveled through Europe, Australia, Japan, and eventually into the United States. Currently, all western U.S. states have the snails in their water systems, with the exception of New Mexico. The species poses many threats to the local ecosystems of these areas, particularly to California aquatic life. The mudsnails compete with and even replace invertebrates such as mayflies and stoneflies. By replacing these invertebrates, the entire food web is tampered with. They most directly have an effect on trout and native fish populations.  Fishermen across the United States are urged to keep an eye out for these cunning critters  to avoid any further transport. Otherwise, they soon will not have any fish to fish.

In many ways, awareness about the New Zealand Mudsnail is important because it can have a profound effect on the California ecosystem. I became primarily interested when I saw the full circle effect the mudsnails are creating with fishermen. The fishermen are the main vectors for their transportation and they are also the humans that are directly effected. The snails create a competition with other sea life that eventually cuts off the food supply for the fish. Without any fish, fishermen simply are not fishermen. I also do live in California and I have seen the mudsnails firsthand in the past. If, at the time, I had known about their detrimental effects to the ecosystem, perhaps I would have killed a few. This only furthers my conviction that awareness of aquatic invasive species is the key to ending any further spread and damage to ecosystems.

Filed Under (SW1) by Shane Stone on 01-09-2010

The Chinese Mitten Crab first arrived on the shores of North America in 1965. One crab, found in Ontario,  resulted in widespread discussion throughout the country because no one wanted to see it spread. Unfortunately, it spread and they can be found in California, Maryland, New York, and most recently, New Jersey. In these states the crabs have caused many problems, i.e. clogging San Francisco’s water system, and now that New Jersey has become the next victim, fisherman have begun to panic. According to Gregory Ruiz “40 crabs have been caught, reported and confirmed in New Jersey alone, making that state ground zero right now for mitten crabs.” The state is trying to do whatever it can to contain the population, asking all residents to try and capture any specimen they encounter to prevent reproduction. New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife is trying to stop the spread now because the females can produce up to 1 million eggs per reproductive cycle, and that would not end well for New Jersey’s aquatic and marine ecosystems.

The urgency with which the state is trying to address the issue is completely rational. Hopefully New Jersey can manage the situation without it getting too out of hand. These crabs can cause serious issues to ecosystems because they are omnivores, and therefore prey on a multitude of organisms. Aside from the organisms, the crabs have destroyed the physical ecosystems in their previous homes when they burrowed into the walls of riverbanks, causing erosion. Despite Jew Jersey’s efforts, its plan is flawed because it relies so heavily on assistance from civilians. To many people the idea of seeing a live crab disturbs them, but to capture one is in a league of its own. Therefore, I believe that New Jersey should continue to encourage people, but try to unite with other states that have this problem so there can be a joint effort. Also, some people tend to work harder if there is some sort of incentive. Perhaps if a small reward were offered per crab, more people would try to catch them in hopes of profiting. In general, I just want this problem to be handled so that my home, New Jersey does not face any irreversible repercussions.