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MSU-assisted website allows tracking of invasive species

July 20, 2010

In 2002, the emerald ash borer killed tens of millions of trees in the state of Michigan.

Now, a new website created by an MSU professor identifies areas vulnerable to invasive species, such as the emerald ash borer, in an attempt to prevent outbreaks and damage to the environment.

The site, metroinvasive.info, contains maps showing “hot” areas for exotic species, information useful to researchers who are interested in the human mediated dispersion of pests, said Manuel Colunga-Garcia, an assistant professor with the MSU Center for Global Change and Earth Observations who created the site in April.

“By highlighting vulnerable areas to invasions, we hope to raise the awareness of people,” Colunga-Garcia said. “We need many eyes looking for exotic pests. Universities and state and federal agencies inform the public on what species to look for. We tell people where.”

Invasive, or exotic, species are organisms from foreign countries that cause damage to ecosystems. Insects can damage native plants that have not developed protection against them, and plants can be invasive as well, becoming a dominant species and crowding out native vegetation, which endangers animals relying on the native plants for food.

The monetary cost of invasive species is high, said Bryan Pijanowski, a professor in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University.

“When you consider invasive species impact things like crops, forest ecosystems and hydrologic systems, the (cost) is probably in the billions of dollars,” Pijanowski said.

The information about vulnerable areas could be important to campground managers as well as those involved in transportation, said Robert Haack, a research entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, Forest Service.

“The unique thing that Manuel (Colunga-Garcia) and our team did, we actually put the different parts together,” Haack said. “We were able to put together all this information for the first time and actually examine all these internal flow patterns within the country.”

Colunga-Garcia began the research in 2006 with $500,000 in funding from the USDA. Colunga-Garcia created the website in April to provide a place where the group’s research of invasive species populations could be viewed by the general public.

Colunga-Garcia’s team currently is working on new research for the site dealing with the transportation of firewood within the country.

Although the website currently contains only five research projects, Colunga-Garcia said more will be coming in the next several weeks.

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