Story of the Week: 11/2/14-11/8/14
On the Hunt for Invasive Plants, By Ruth Larkin
I kill stuff. Yep, that’s what my service is all about. Taking green, growing things and killing them dead. I serve as the Native Plants Land Manager at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont. Ironically, as such, I do very little with native plants. I do, however, focus a lot of energy on invasive plants; I spend my days hunting for them and killing them.
You see, invasive plants did not evolve in this ecosystem. Invasive plants are frequently introduced to ecosystems, as ornamental plants. In fact, this fall, one of my projects has been to remove the ornamental plantings on campus that are invasive species. The seeds from planted ornamental disperse to natural areas. Without their predator species, they flourish. They become highly successful weeds. Without predation, they can easily out-compete our native species that do have to cope with their host of predatory species. And that can impact a lot more than just the greenery.
What are a plant’s predators? Well, generally, insects. So, if we have a lot of invasive plants, there isn’t much for the insects to eat. So, there aren’t as many insects around. That’s ok, right? I mean, who likes insects? Well, birds do for one. The birds eat the insects. Oh, and the insects eat the native plants; the insects transfer the sun’s energy up the trophic level from plants to other animals. So we find that a key to having a healthy ecosystem is to have native plants. When we have an area with primarily invasive plants, there isn’t much for the insects to eat, so their numbers dwindle. That means there isn’t much for birds to eat, so their numbers dwindle, and so on. Ultimately, these spaces stop functioning as healthy ecosystems.
And that is where I come in at: I take out invasive plants so that the native plants can thrive. I am, in essence, filling the role of the herbivorous insects that these invasive plants left behind when they were transported from their native ecosystems to this new one. It’s not glamorous; it’s often dirty, wet, and uncomfortable; but it’s important, and I love it. I’m getting things done for America.