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Slowly removing invasive species spares the natives

Helicopter spraying herbicide on invasive Spartina in San Francisco Bay, CA.
[Image courtesy of Drew Kerr, Invasive Spartina Project]

Sometimes, getting rid of invasive species is harder than it sounds because native plants and animals come to rely on them for resources. Now, however, Adam Lampert and colleagues have come up with a new way to get rid of invasive species that also protects native species more effectively. But, it may take more time than traditional approaches, they say.

The researchers studied an example of conflicting ecosystem management goals, similar to the ones that arise when you try to harvest timber while at the same time protecting forest habitats: People in San Francisco, California, were trying to get rid of an invasive plant species known as hybrid Spartina but in doing so, they destroyed the habitat of an endangered bird species, known as the California clapper rail.

So, Lampert and his team of researchers considered both the bird and plant species separately and designed a new strategy to eradicate the invasive Spartina while restoring the native clapper rails—all while keeping costs as low as possible. Their new strategy involves three steps: Killing the invasive Spartina until the clapper rails' start to become affected, reestablishing native Spartina plants in that same area so they can support some of the birds and, finally, removing the rest of the invasive Spartina.

This new model for dealing with invasive species doesn't attack the invasive species all at once, and the researchers suggest that this is the key to protecting native species that are already there. The most effective restoration projects will have longer time scales—and they won't focus solely on eliminating the invasive species—according to the researchers.