WSU ecologist encouraging nat’l war on invading species

PULLMAN — Didemnum sea squirts don’t look scary. But the yellow blobs that are showing up on rocks and lobster traps in Puget Sound and the Hood Canal have biologists plenty worried.

Native to Europe, the colonial creatures lack natural predators in North America. Unnoticed and unopposed, they can spread unchecked, eventually smothering shellfish beds and emitting toxins that harm other residents of the intertidal zone.

And they’re not alone. Non-native species such as apple maggots, knapweed and cheatgrass threaten orchards, rangelands and forests across Washington.

Nationwide, invasive species do an estimated $137 billion of environmental and economic damage each year.

Richard Mack of Washington State University’s School of Biological Sciences is part of a panel that will report on the issue during a press conference at 9:30 a.m. March 3 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The panel, convened by the Ecological Society of America, will announce a set of recommendations to combat biological invaders.

“We view biological invasions as serious threats,” said Mack. “Threats to biodiversity, the national economy and even, at times, human health.”

He said that measures to detect, prevent and control invasive species will require coordination across all levels of government within the US and globally. With extensive travel and trade among nations, he said, “these are intrinsically international issues.”

Following the press conference, Mack and his colleagues will talk with congressional staffers to urge prompt action on their proposals.

Mack, a terrestrial ecologist, studies biological invasions and their consequences. He led another ESA group that in 2000 produced a report laying the scientific groundwork for the policy recommendations in the new paper.

Related links: – “Biotic Invasions:
Causes, Epidemiology, Global Consequences and Control” – 2000 report by the ESA dealing with the scientific aspects of invasive species.

* – USDA site with information on invasive species problems in Washington state.

* – Web site of Washington scientists and conservation groups concerned about invasive species.

* – “Reluctant Admiration for a Tenacious Invader,” story about Richard Mack and cheatgrass.

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