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Compass Magazine - Issue 18

Perspectives and tools to benefit southern forest resources from the Southern Research Station

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Climate Change Invasions

by Teresa Jackson

Some nonnative invasive plants species such as cogongrass appear to thrive under climate change. (photo by Chris Evans, courtesy of Forestry Images)
Some nonnative invasive plants species such as cogongrass appear to thrive under climate change. (photo by Chris Evans, courtesy of Forestry Images)

The Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center (EFETAC) uses modeling tools to assess the effects of climate change on invasive plant species. Climate change, as a major and growing disturbance agent, can have wide ranging effects on invasive species. Studies show that nonnative plants, especially invasive species, appear to thrive during times of climate change, as it creates niches and opportunities that promote invasion.

EFETAC researchers use a wide range of modeling and simulation approaches to make comprehensive comparisons between the habitats and geographical distributions of native and nonnative invasive plant species that help them to predict how expected climate change will affect the distributions of plant species in a given area. Geographic Information System (GIS) remote sensing tools are also used to assist the modeling process and to visually map out results that are easy to understand by both scientists and land managers.

"Effective management of invasive plant species requires a basic understanding of plant biology and ecology, particularly how species interact with each other and with the environment," says Qinfeng Guo, EFETAC research ecologist based in Asheville, NC. "This includes looking at how the life history and genetic traits of invasive plants may be linked to rapid and widespread invasion under current and projected future climate conditions."

Conducting both field and experimental research in diverse ecosystems across the United States and internationally allows scientists to collect life history and habitat data from both native and exotic regions that can be used to explain the current distribution of invasive plant species and to predict future spread under changing climate and land use change scenarios.

Cogongrass infestation in a pine plantation. (photo by Chris Evans, courtesy of Forestry Images)
Cogongrass infestation in a pine plantation. (photo by Chris Evans, courtesy of Forestry Images)

Many invasive plants have been introduced to the United States in a relatively short period of time. Although some presently occupy smaller ranges relative to their native ranges, they have great potential to spread quickly and widely. Knowing which species are likely to do so based on their traits is critically needed to take early actions in prevention and control.

 

 

"The ultimate goal of EFETAC research is to preserve native biodiversity and to manage invasive species," says Guo.

For more information:
Qinfeng Guo at 828–257–4246 or qguo@fs.fed.us

Recommended reading:

Guo, Q.; Ricklefs, R. 2010. Domestic exotics and the perception of invisibility. Diversity and Distributions. 16: 1034–1039.