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Help Stop the Invaders

Japanese climbing fern (Lygodium japonicum) is a fast-growing, vine-like fern from Asia that can shade out entire trees. The invasive plant also produces a thick groundcover that keeps native seeds from germinating and can form walls that act as a "fire ladder" turning ground fires into canopy fires.
 

Citizen scientists recording invasive plants in the field
In January, volunteer Citizen Scientist Vanessa Adams found the plant growing at the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge in far northeast Texas. This is the farthest north the plant has been recorded in the state. And although right now the invasive fern doesn't pose as much of a problem in Texas as it does in other southern states, it still is a plant to be watched.

Adams is one of more than 450 citizen scientists who take part in the Invaders of Texas program, a citizen science-based effort to detect and report invasive species in Texas.

Until now, the program has trained volunteer citizen scientists to detect and report invasive species at hands-on workshops across the state. A new training method that teaches volunteers in eight online training modules will help expand the program's volunteer base.

Program Coordinator Travis Gallo says, "Online training makes stopping the spread of invasives even easier. Participation is simple -- all volunteers need is a camera and a connection to the Internet. GPS units are optional.

"We encourage them to record invasives as they come across them while they are out hiking or bird watching."

According to Gallo, Texas is one of only a handful of states using citizen scientists  to track invasive species. The Wildflower Center has a list of 140 species targeted for identification through the program that includes some known to be invasive in Texas and others like cogon grass (Imperata cylindrical) that should be prevented from becoming the problem in Texas that it is in the Southeast.


This map shows the distribution of giant reed. Green counties
are documented by the USDA only, red represents areas
documented by the Invaders of Texas program and orange
represents counties documented by both.
Once Gallo has verified volunteer's field invaisive report, information about its location is published on an online distribution map.

The findings can help researchers and land managers, as was true in the case of the identified Japanese climbing fern.

"The importance here was that the plant had never been seen that far north so this helps us know that the invasive is moving into new territory," says Gallo.

Other citizen scientists have identified giant reed (Arundo donax) which crowds out native plants in wetland areas, increases fire potential and interferes with flood control.

"The best thing to come from the Invaders of Texas program is early detection and more accurate and up-to-date distribution mapping," says Gallo.

Individuals who wish to help stop the spread of invasive species in Texas should visit www.texasinvasives.org/invaders/become.php to complete the online training to become an Invaders of Texas Voyager.