Feral pigs churn up natural environments like a plow. Spectacular-looking lionfish along the coast voraciously suck in baby reef fish. Old World climbing fern fronds, up to 125-feet long, smother everything beneath them. Whether ugly or beautiful, invasive, non-native species such as these cause serious damage when introduced to Florida’s natural lands. Indeed, the threat they pose is second only to the direct destruction of habitats through development.
Because Florida’s climate is so hospitable, invasive species cause more of a crisis here than anywhere else in the continental United States. The fact that Florida serves as point of entry for almost three-fourths of the plants imported into the U.S. and the majority of the world reptile trade compounds the problem. See a lineup of Florida's most "unwanted" invasive species.
All of Florida’s native habitats – marine, freshwater and terrestrial – are threatened by invasives species. The cost of managing Florida’s invasive plants alone is estimated at $100 million each year; the cost of animal management could easily exceed this.
The Conservancy is taking steps to help keep nature in balance and protect human communities.
The Conservancy’s strategy is straightforward:
- Prevent future invasions of non-native species.
- Quickly detect and respond to an invasion when it occurs.
- Protect native habitats by minimizing the damage caused by invasive species that are challenging or impossible to eradicate.
Watch Director of Science Kristina Serbesoff-King in Battleground Everglades: War on Invasive Species on WPBT Feb. 14 at 7:30 PM and WXEL Feb. 15 at 8 PM.
Kris Serbesoff-King and Battleground Everglades host Charles Kropke. © PBS
Conservancy Action Steps
- Policy. Conservancy staff serves on state and federal advisory committees, and informs policy-makers with the latest and best scientific advice. National legislation that would affect the importation of non-native wildlife, especially reptiles such as south Florida’s highly-invasive Burmese python, is a hot topic today.
- Science. Certain non-native plants can wreak havoc on agricultural systems as well as natural habitats. Along with the University of Florida (UF), the Conservancy successfully advanced the adoption of a screening tool that predicts which plant species – including those being proposed as biofuels – might become invasive. UF now requires its extension agents to reference this tool before recommending plants. This tool also influences state policy, through the inclusion of UF on a state committee responsible for listing Florida’s worst weeds.
- Best Practices. When Burmese pythons were spotted swimming from the Everglades toward the Florida Keys, the Conservancy created Python Patrol. This early-detection, rapid-response task force prevents the spread of these non-native constrictor snakes to the Keys. Python Patrol trains community workers such as meter readers to identify the snakes and call in sightings; wildlife professionals then capture the snakes, which snack on endangered species and can grow longer than 20 feet. Python Patrol is considered a model rapid response task force.
- Land Management. Because the Conservancy owns and manages property, we understand the complexities and difficulties that public conservation lands face. Conservancy preserve managers strive to minimize the threat of invasive non-native species by:
- Creating operating procedures to guide actions such as the appropriate use of herbicides,
- Holding annual practitioner’s trainings,
- Drafting standards for decontamination, and
- Preventing the unintentional movement of invasive species.
- Partnerships. The Conservancy joins state and federal agencies and a variety of private and non-traditional groups in an on-the-ground battle against invasive species.
- Many regional Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs) have been established to share expertise and resources. The Conservancy is actively engaged in eight of these local partnerships. The Conservancy also co-chairs the Florida Invasive Species Partnership, a group of representatives from agencies and organizations, that advises and helps implement the work of the CISMAs.
- Central Florida Lygodium Strategy (CFLS) is a model collaboration of public and private partners, created and led by the Conservancy to address the northern spread of Old World climbing fern. This fast-growing plant smothers habitats and is considered the greatest invasive threat to Florida’s ecosystems. CFLS uses effective teamwork to coordinate a variety of on-the-ground controls, from the Gulf coast to the Atlantic Ocean, covering 14 central Florida counties.
- Exotic pets released in woods and waters can wreak havoc on Florida's ecosystem. Find out what to do with an exotic pet you can no longer care for>>