CORVALLIS, Ore. – A team at Oregon State University has developed a statistical model that aims to predict which non-native species might become invaders – and arm resource managers to prevent their spread.
Led by economist Munisamy Gopinath and funded by Oregon Sea Grant, the project includes two essential elements for identifying invasive species: how they travel to non-native locations, and whether they could survive and thrive in the new environment. The model also calculates the economic impacts involved in managing the invasive species.
The model is a large, but simple equation. Species that invade waterways often “hitchhike” via recreational travel. Information on where, how, and why people travel to water bodies, along with environmental factors such as temperature, precipitation and elevation, are entered into the equation. The result is a “risk of introduction” that allows resource managers and policy makers to identify species that pose a threat of invasion.
“Not all species are invasive,” said Gopinath, a professor in the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and director of OSU’s graduate program in applied economics. Only transplanted species with specific characteristics that match with specific habitats will thrive, cause harm to the environment, economy and human health – and earn the “invasive” moniker.
“They may not sound like a big deal,” Gopinath said, “but all you have to look at is the quagga and zebra mussels’ invasion,” which caused serious ecological and economic damage to the Great Lakes region and recently began turning up in Western states, much to the alarm of resource managers. “Their invasion in the late 1980s was without fanfare. When these mussels quickly colonized, native mussels lost out, and in addition, water infrastructure became contaminated causing billions of dollars in damages.”
With the information the model provides, policy makers and resource managers could focus resources, along with education and outreach, to specific species and locations before invasive species are introduced, or take hold on a system.