April 2016

Conservation Dogs Join the Fight Against Texas Invasives

A reoccurring challenge in the fight against invasive species is getting ordinary Texans, who are at risk of spreading invaders, to take action. Luckily, a couple of dogged canines are on the case.

Working Dogs for Conservation, a non-profit organization founded in 2007, trains conservation detection dogs that can sniff out unwanted invasive species among their many conservation efforts. They travel the world hunting invaders everywhere from Guam to Iowa, and now they’re in Texas to raise awareness about invasive species.

The Northeast Texas Conservation Delivery Network (CDN), a collection of conservation agencies and organizations including Texas Parks and Wildlife, brought the Working Dogs for Conservation to Texas to help with public outreach.

“By bringing Working Dogs for Conservation and using a dog’s natural ability to draw attention, we believe this project will surpass its goal of educating the public in a lasting way about the threat of non-native invasive species” said Laura Speight, the Northeast Texas CDN chair.

This spring, the Working Dogs for Conservation have been conducting demonstrations, searches for emerald ash borer and voluntary boat inspections for zebra mussels. They will make their final public appearance for 2016 at the Toyota Texas Fest in Frisco on May 20 – 22. Visitors can meet the dogs, learn more about their work, and even see them search a boat. Toyota Texas Fest visitors can also see demonstrations on how boaters should properly clean, drain and dry their boats and learn more about aquatic invasive species threatening Texas with interactive games and displays.

The working dogs were all found at animal shelters and picked for their ability to focus on a tennis ball. They need that focus when trying to track down tiny invaders. These dedicated dogs can search an entire boat for zebra mussels in about three minutes versus up to an hour it could take humans.

The Working Dogs’ work is just part of a larger invasive species public awareness effort. This summer, Texas Parks and Wildlife and a coalition of partners are relaunching a zebra mussel awareness campaign in North and Central Texas and a giant salvinia campaign in East Texas. The campaigns seek to remind boaters to clean, drain and dry their boats every time they leave the water to prevent the spread of destructive invasive species.

For more information about the Working Dogs for Conservation, visit their website. Watch this video showing the dogs at work at a demonstration in east Texas.


Photo credit: TPWD

WorkingDogsphoto2 - Michael Mathews Texas Master Naturalist

Photo credit: Michael Mathews, Texas Master Naturalist volunteer

Invaders of Texas Satellite of the Month

Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei) is widely despised for being the cause of cedar fever, an overwhelming allergic response to its airborne pollen. If not controlled, it will take over meadows and forests alike. For those reasons, most Central Texans would feel just fine about anything that made for fewer Ashe juniper.

But what if that “anything” was an invasive plant so aggressive that it choked out everything, including the Ashe juniper? That was the situation in a one-acre retention pond in Austin’s Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park. The culprit? Ligustrum lucidum, a.k.a. glossy privet. In that area, “the ligustrums were so thick that I failed every time I tried to count them. I’d get up to about 200 trees and realize that I wasn’t even halfway through the thicket and had lost track,” said Cliff Tyllick, a citizen scientist for the Invaders of Texas program and organizer of a satellite group called Keep Walnut Creek Wild.

But on March 12, 2016, that changed. Tyllick led 105 volunteers from United Parcel Service, the Sierra Club, and Keep Walnut Creek Wild to take on the glossy privet. They used a tool called a weed wrench, which is used to uproot large plants. “For all but one volunteer, this was their first introduction to the weed wrench. And they wore them out,” Tyllick said. “I didn’t know you could bend a weed wrench, but they did.”

The good news is that the weed wrenches have since been repaired and strengthened by a mechanic, and somewhere around 400 to 500 ligustrums ranging from 10 to 20 feet tall were uprooted, removed from the area, and ground into mulch. Those that were too large to uproot were girdled, meaning a section of bark was removed from entirely around the trunk near its base.

Just outside the grove, three Austin Parks and Recreation employees kept a chipper running as the volunteers supplied uprooted ligustrum trunks. Three hours after the project began, the thicket had become an open grove, and the ligustrum had become about 10 cubic yards of wood chips.

“We have plans for those chips,” Tyllick said. “We’re moving them back into the grove and using them to smother the ligustrum seedlings that have just begun to sprout.”

But girdling and uprooting ligustrums wasn’t all there was to this project. At the same time, about 25 children no more than 8 years old and their parents crowded around a group of picnic tables and molded seedballs out of clay and a mix of seeds for shade-tolerant riparian grasses, wildflowers, and other native plants. “After we till in or smother several rounds of ligustrum seedlings to reduce the seedbank and give the native plants a fighting chance, we will bring kids back to scatter the seedballs.”

All told, the project entailed nearly 400 hours of volunteer and staff time. Along with the cost of a few tools and other materials, the total value of the project was $9881, of which $8,643 is the equivalent value of the volunteers' time.

Not bad for a morning’s work!

“We are far from done, though,” Tyllick said. “Walnut Creek Park covers more than 200 acres, and way too many of them are just as thickly covered with ligustrum.”

If you are interested in volunteering to help fight invasives in Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, contact Texas Invasives.org.






A stand of privet before eradication.


After removal of privet; the larger ones were girdled, as shown here. Photo credits: Cliff Tyllick

Invasive Spotlight:
Giant African Land Snail
Lissachatina fulica)

As its name implies, the giant African land snail is very large: up to 8 inches in length and nearly 5 inches in diameter. The brownish shell covers at least half the length of the snail. The shell has darker brown stripes that stretch lengthwise along the shell, which distinguishes it from the apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata), another species of large snail but with dark stripes that stretch across the shell. When full grown, the shell consists of seven to nine whorls, with a long and greatly swollen body whorl. The apple snail has a more rounded (globose) shape, unlike the longer, pointed or conical shape of the giant Africcan snail.

Giant African snails cause extensive damage to plants in tropical and subtropical agricultural systems, as well as the environment. They are known to feed on over 500 different types of plants, including peanuts, beans, peas, cucumbers, and melons. They will eat a wide variety of ornamental plants if vegetables or fruits are unavailable, and have even been found eating paint and stucco on houses. They are also a threat to human health, because they may carry a parasitic worm that can cause meningitis.

Like other snails, they are principally active at night and during wet weather. They normally seek shaded, sheltered resting locations with high humidity, but can climb trees and walls to rest.

Because the giant African snail poses a serious risk to ecosystems as well as agriculture, it is one of the “Dirty Dozen” pest species identified by the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council and USDA-APHIS. Therefore, it is one of the “Report It!” alert species on the Texasinvasives.org website and reporting app.

The snail has not yet been found in Texas, and let's keep it that way! If you believe you have found a giant African land snail, please report this species.

Follow this link for more information on the giant African snail.


Source: Andrew Derksen, FDACS/DPI

applesnail3 2

An apple snail for comparison. Note difference in coloration and shape.
Credit: https://snailbusters.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/applesnail3.jpg?w=500

More News

Carrizo Cane Control Plan Called into Question
Because Carrizo cane (Arundo donax) can hide smugglers and poses a security risk for border patrol agents, the state of Texas has allotted funds through Senate Bill 1734 to combat the invasive plant. However, the state’s plans are being questioned by residents and environmental groups who argue that one of the control methods, the aerial spraying of herbicide, poses a greater risk to the Rio Grande. Many fear the impact that aerial spraying will have on the main source of drinking water for many of the local residents. Those opposed to the plans point to a seven-year study currently being done by the USDA using cane-eating wasps and cane topping as desired alternatives. Learn more about Senate Bill 1734 and the debate.

Invasive Understory Species Pose Fire Risk
Texas A&M Agrilife research scientists are studying the link between invasive understory species, especially Chinese and European privets (Ligustrum spp), and wildfire. These aggressive species pose a particular challenge to forest managers because of the species' ability to expand their range and create thickets. Through modeling, the team has shown that these species can act as “ladder fuel” that leads to crown fires, especially in drought conditions. Learn more about the study and how invasive species can change fire ecology.

A Tale of Two Birds
One person's invasive species may be another's insurance policy. Probable escapees from homes and the pet trade, the red-crowned parrot (Amazona viridigenalis) has established populations in California and Texas. Researchers are now speculating that these urban populations of red-crowned parrots may rival that of the native populations in Mexico. Scientists are beginning to study the U.S. populations because the species may be put on the endangered species list in Mexico due to loss of habitat and poaching for the pet trade. Some researchers view the metropolitan birds as invasive while others a last hope. Learn more about the study and the possible change in conservation status of the red-crowned parrot.

Documenting an Invasion
Voracious predators, harlequin ladybugs (Harmonia axyridis) have become popular agricultural biocontrol agents for aphids, but their ability to rapidly spread beyond introduced areas has scientists worried. The invasion is creating a connection between citizens and scientists. Citizen scientists in the U.K. can log observations of native and harlequin ladybugs on www.ladybird-survey.org, which provides researchers greater insight into how invasive insects are able to conquer new territory on a global scale. Read more about the site and the harlequin ladybug.

White-nose Syndrome Jumps to Washington
On March 11, 2016, a hiker in Washington found an ill little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) that was subsequently diagnosed with white-nose syndrome (Pseudogymnoascus destructans). This bat became the first documented case of the fungus in Washington and most alarmingly, the first case west of the Rockies. This huge leap in territory shines a spotlight on the role humans play in the transmission of disease. It is speculated that the fungus first arrived in the U.S. on caving gear from Europe, and while it is yet to be seen how the fungus arrived in Washington, the speculation is that a similar scenario is to blame. Surveillance will begin in the North Bend area of the Cascade Mountains where the bat was found. Read more about white-nose syndrome and its potential impact on the little brown bat populations of Washington.

Reinventing the Rattrap
A team at Simon Fraser University is reinventing the rattrap. They are creating a rattrap that is effective and minimizes collateral damage by using a snap mechanism and three methods of attraction: pheromones, vocalizations and food. By using rat communication methods, the trap is designed to enhance capture and eliminate bait stations. Scotts Canada Ltd. is funding the research and hopes to commercialize the trap. Read more about the trap.

If you would like your invasive species event or news listed in the next iWire, please send the details to iwire@texasinvasives.org


Sentinel Pest Network and Invaders of Texas Species Workshops

Invaders of Texas workshops train volunteers to become citizen scientists to detect and report invasive species. Workshops, which are free, include information on the Sentinel Pest Network, which serves to increase the awareness and early detection of the Emerald Ash Borer, Cactus Moth, Asian Longhorned Beetle, and other pests of regulatory significance.

Workshops are tailored to meet the interests of your volunteer group, and supplementary session examples include an introduction to the TX Invaders mobile application and the Eradicator Calculator, a feature on Texasinvasives.org designed to help organize and track volunteer-based eradication efforts.

Upcoming Workshops:

Stay tuned!

For more information or to register to attend a free workshop, please visit the Workshop Page.