The Invaders are coming!

Ryan Campbell is nearly obscured by a healthy growth of common reed, a very aggressive invader that is one of the weed crew’s targeted plants. Photo: Steve Whiteaker, FESS Roads and Grounds

Community and restoration ecologists agree that one of the most serious threats to balanced, functional ecosystems is the introduction of non-native species – either plants or animals. Now, more than ever, the array of invasive non-native species is a challenge, as more and more aggressive species are introduced.

In theory, the many species that interact in natural ecosystems have co-evolved in such a way that available resources such as sunlight, nutrients, energy and space are optimally used. Interlopers that have not been subject to this co-evolutionary process can sometimes upset the entire system, just as Japanese beetles did in the U.S. to many types of crops and trees. In some of these cases, the invasive species wiped out whole sectors of the native communities, causing massive ecological disruption.

Invasive species can also damage equipment not created to take them into consideration. For example, zebra mussels, unintentionally imported from Eastern Europe, caused serious damage to industrial infrastructure in the northeast and clogged up drainage systems at Fermilab.

The restoration of natural ecosystems at Fermilab has been underway since 1975. We continually deal with plant species not native to tall-grass prairie or other Midwestern ecosystems. Many of these species are aggressive, and easily out-compete native species more desirable from a restoration perspective. Culprits at Fermilab include: crown vetch, garlic mustard, white sweet clover, reed canary grass, common reed and purple loosestrife.

The weed crew, led by FESS natural resource specialist Ryan Campbell, recently augmented the efforts of the Fermilab grounds crew. Campbell’s team, composed of summer students Shirley Xiao and Kevin Sheehan, uses a combination of mechanical clearing and carefully controlled chemical applications to battle the invaders. Fermilab Natural Areas support Xiao and Sheehan through a grant from the Boeing Community Fund.

Fermilab employees can assist in this monumental task by volunteering for ecology work days during the summer months. Check the FNA blog for information about upcoming work days.

—Rod Walton, Fermilab ecologist