Hiding in Plain Sight
Written by Amy Jewitt, Invasive Species Coordinator at the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program
Invasive species can hide in plain sight if we aren't honing our plant and identification skills and purposely searching for them. Beginning in January 2023, take part in a New Year's challenge by selecting 12 invaders to research and get to know better. Then the next time you're adventuring outdoors, you may spot a new or novel species worth reporting.
How often does this happen to you? You're walking in your neighborhood or along your favorite nature trail and you see a new plant or animal. You stop, get a closer look, take in the details and distinguishing characteristics, and wonder about it. You might ask yourself, "Have I seen this before? What could it be?" You may even take some time to use your preferred identification app and learn more about the species in front of you. For other people, however, the scientific process may end there and you keep going, anxious to be on your way.
Want to explore a new natural area in PA? Check out WPC's Lake Pleasant Conservation Area in Erie County with Tyson Johnston, Land Stewardship Coordinator. View more videos in this series.
The art of wondering is what drives learning, and in the realm of invasive species, it's imperative to always keep learning to ensure we stay aware of new and novel invaders, or common species we might not already be familiar with. In the example scenario described above, the plant or animal you're looking at may be something common in your area, or it could be a species recently arrived or not yet widespread; in other words, a high priority species worth reporting!
The online world is full of practical resources that can educate us on many topics, including invasive species. These digital tools help us stay sharp and aware of species to be on the lookout for.
Left: Water primrose (Ludwigia hexapetala) | Middle: Five-leaf akebia (Akebia quinata) | Right: Lily leaf beetle (Lilioceris lilii)
With 2023 almost upon us, I am proposing a New Year's challenge to all natural resource professionals and community scientists with an interest in invasive species. During each month of the new year, educate yourself on an invasive plant or animal currently unfamiliar to you by digging into the plethora of information available online. The following is a suggested list to get you started:
Invasive Species of Concern for PA (PA Governor's Invasive Species Council)
Invasive Plants of Pittsburgh (online field guide)
Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas (online field guide)
Set yourself up for success by creating a simple Word document that includes all 12 months, and then list the name of an individual invasive species next to each month. Beginning in January and at the start of each consecutive month, research the species you chose by answering the following questions:
How do I identify this species; what are its distinguishing characteristics?
What are some of its look-alikes?
What type of habitat(s) does it prefer to live in?
Where is it native to?
Where has it been found to-date in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region?
Hint: To help answer the last question regarding species distributions, tap into resources including iMapInvasives, iNaturalist, EDDMapS, USGS NAS, and the Biota of North America Program.
Now, the challenge... Follow through with your list. Get to know the species you've selected and pride yourself on the knowledge you'll gain from thoroughly researching each plant or animal as best you can.
From this effort, perhaps the next time you're out enjoying nature, you may notice one or more of the species on your list and know exactly what you're looking at. When this happens, remember to report your finding! Documenting a report for an invasive species is crucial to better understanding its geographic distribution and can help natural resource professionals prioritize their future land management efforts. In Pennsylvania, reports submitted to iMapInvasives can be made via an online database, the classic mobile app or Survey123, or by using our public report form.
If you decide to take part in this challenge, let us know by using the hashtag #WPCInvasives on social media. Tell us what species are on your list and if you're finding any of them during your outdoor adventures.
Thanks in advance to all who choose to participate!