What Can You Do to Reduce the Impact of Invasive Species?
by Jane Marsh
Releasing an exotic pet reptile into the wild might not seem like a major cause for concern – after all, can’t animals simply adapt to new habitats? Unfortunately, invasive species carry numerous environmental, economic, and social implications.
According to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), invasive species threaten 42% of endangered species by outcompeting natives for food, hindering reproduction, and killing native species’ offspring.
A recent study also estimates that invasive species cost the United States $26 billion annually, up from $2 billion in 2010.
Stopping the invasion of non-native species is essential before their populations become unmanageable and overtake entire ecosystems. Here are five things you can do to help reduce their impact.
Don’t Release Pets Into the Wild
While it might seem humane to release a pet snake, iguana, or even fish into nearby streams and forests, their presence can disrupt the food web and harm local wildlife and plants.
For example, South Florida has combatted Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park since the 1980s, as their massive growth usually becomes too much to handle for their owners. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew exacerbated their invasion as category 5 winds demolished a Miami-based python breeding facility, releasing hundreds of snakes into the marsh.
Unfortunately, as more owners set their snakes free, scientists have tracked a significant decline in native species populations. Burmese pythons eat endangered and threatened species like wood storks, white-tailed deer, bobcats, and limpkins. Reports have even shown they’ve consumed alligators.
Help reduce the impact of invasive species in nearby habitats by avoiding releasing pets into the wild.
Clean Equipment and Gear
Spending the day on the water is the perfect way to unwind. However, cleaning all your equipment is essential regardless of whether you take the boat out or a paddleboard.
Water vessels of all shapes and sizes can drive the spread of invasive species. Aquatic and marine organisms latch onto boat propellers or other recreational gear, allowing easy transfer to waterways to which they don’t belong.
After each water excursion, clean away mud and seaweed from the motor and propellers and wipe down everything from bait buckets to scuba diving gear to your dog. Tiny plants and other residues might contain invasive larvae that will rehome themselves in the most unlikely places.
Avoid Transporting Pests
Packing food for a picnic at the beach or a weekend camping trip seems harmless, but produce might contain pests and insects that invade native habitats.
Wash your food before bringing it with you on a trip and throw away trash and leftovers before traveling to another site. Likewise, be mindful of scrubbing your clothes, shoes, and bags whenever you spend time outdoors. It’s possible to bring pests home with you, which may become invasive or dangerous in new ways.
For example, Argentine ants are nuisance insects with a sweet tooth that could eventually appear in your sugar container or fruit. Meanwhile, deer ticks pose a health risk as they nestle under your skin and increase your chance of Lyme disease.
California reports that an invasive pest is introduced to the state every two months, costing its agricultural sector nearly $3 billion for pest control or crop losses.
Buy Native Plants
Exotic and tropical plants are visually stunning, but if they’re not native to your area, they can cause a severe problem for your backyard, garden, and surrounding environment.
For instance, Japanese honeysuckle originally came over in 1806 for decorative purposes and erosion management. However, the plant is an aggressive vine grower that outcompetes other flora, mainly due to birds eating and dispersing its seeds.
The European Norway maple has also infiltrated Minnesotan habitats and beyond, growing to massive heights with dense canopies that shade and reduce forest diversity on the ground. Additionally, Norway maples absorb considerable water, causing competition with nearby plants.
Visit your local nursery for help selecting native plants for your yard and swap out invasive ones immediately.
Volunteer in Removal Initiatives
There are likely invasive species removal programs where you live that will allow you to join their removal efforts. Check your state’s or nearby national park’s website for volunteer opportunities.
You can also participate in walking tours that teach you about invasive species in your area, their impacts, and current measures to control them.
Organizing an invasive species removal initiative yourself is another possibility. Once you’ve learned to identify invasive plants accurately, you can teach others and form a specialized invasive species management plan for the community.
Your Removal Efforts Make a Difference
Whether you volunteer or become more mindful of the plants in your yard, you can help control intrusive species in native habitats. Simple things like cleaning your recreational equipment can make a huge difference in protecting habitats and preserving wildlife that actually belongs.
Article by Jane Marsh
Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of