Published on 04/03/08

UGA center to fight invasive species

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

University of Georgia experts have opened a new center in Tifton, Ga., to limit the spread of invasive species and understand their impact on native plants. They hope to teach others how to do the same.

The UGA Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health will pool the resources and expertise found in the university’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, said Dave Moorhead, a UGA professor of silviculture and the center’s co-director.

“Our strengths will be creating educational materials, partnering with others on the university level and creating outreach programs,” he said.

The center will be located on the UGA Tifton campus, he said, but its focus will include invasive and ecosystem health threats found around the Southeast, the country and even the world. Center co-director Keith Douce, a CAES entomologist, is in Europe teaching and learning about invasive species that could potentially cause problems here.

“With global trade, now more than ever, the possibility of invasive species being introduced from any part of the world is high,” Moorhead said.

An invasive species is one that is introduced either by accident or on purpose to an area where it hasn’t been in the past. At first, the species may go unnoticed, he said. But if a population is allowed to grow, it can out compete and dominate native species and cause major health problems for the ecosystem. Invasive species cause $100 million in damage annually in the U.S.

Georgia has many unwanted guests like privet and kudzu, a notorious, rapidly spreading vine of Southern legend. But other unwanted guests are now starting to wear out their welcome, too.

Honeysuckle, Japanese climbing fern and the vine Oriental bittersweet are stalking their way through Georgia forests. And cogongrass, an aggressive grass that can choke out native flora, has caused major problems in Florida and Mississippi. It now has a foothold in Georgia.

The Midwest and western states have problems with invasive species, too. Getting land managers on the same page there to control invasive species is a bit easier because a lot of the land is publicly owned, Moorhead said.

It’s different in the eastern U.S., where much of the land is privately owned, he said. “It’s more difficult to get a widespread program and get the word out in this area that invasives are starting to pose problems.”

The center evolved from the Bugwood Network, a UGA Web-based system used to collect, promote and distribute educational materials in entomology, forestry and natural resources.

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.