Invasive plants said climate change risk

Jan. 4, 2012 at 8:49 PM
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AMHERST, Mass., Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Climate change will boost U.S. demand for imported drought- and heat-tolerant plants, at the risk of raising imports of more invasive species, researchers say.

Invaders could overrun native ecosystems in the same way kudzu, Oriental bittersweet and other plant species have in the past, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst said. The kudzu invasion of the past few decades saw whole forests overgrown in the Southeast, and Oriental bittersweet, if left unchecked, shades and chokes out native trees, bushes and shrubs along streams, forest and field edges, they said.

Ecologist Bethany Bradley and colleagues recommend U.S. authorities adopt proactive management practices, especially pre-emptive screening of nursery stock before new plants are imported, to prevent such an explosion of new invasives, a UMA release said Wednesday.

"The [U.S. Department of Agriculture] has tools to reduce import risk and we advocate that now is the time put them in place," Bradley said. "Pre-import screening has been tested in Australia for about 10 years now and it's not foolproof, but it seems to have done a good job of separating the really bad import ideas from more benign introductions."

About 60 percent of plants considered invasive were introduced deliberately through the plant trade.

"Globalization has accelerated the rate of introduction from a few species at the first colonization of North America to now, when we probably see thousands of new species each year," Bradley said. "All we need is another kudzu to have a big impact."

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