Teachers and classrooms may spread invasive species

4th-graders show off a rusty crayfish that came in a science curriculum kit. The species is invasive in Oregon, and thanks to Sea Grant's work with companies that supply the kids, is no longer being provided.

One in four teachers who use live animals for classroom science projects report that they’ve released the animals into the wild when the projects are done, according to a new Sea Grant study – and the practice may be helping to spread some nasty invasive species.

The study, led by Oregon Sea Grant Extension’s invasive species expert Sam Chan, was presented at this week’s national meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Portland.

“Live organisms are a critical element for learning and we don’t want to imply that they should not be used in the classroom,” said Chan. “But some of our schools – and the biological supply houses that provide their organisms – are creating a potential new pathway for non-native species to become invasive.

“We need to work through the whole chain and educate both the teachers and suppliers about the potential damages – both environmental and economic – that invasive species may trigger,” added Chan,  former chair of the Oregon Invasive Species Council.

The study surveyed nearly 2,000 teachers in Florida, New York, Indiana, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, California, Connecticut, British Columbia and Ontario. Conducted primarily by researchers from Sea Grant programs in those states, it also included focus groups and interviews with teachers, curriculum specialists and biological supply house owners and managers.

The researchers found teachers using as many as 1,000 different organisms in the classroom, including many frequently listed species identified as known or potential aquatic invaders,  including elodea, crayfishes, amphibians, mosquito fish, red-eared slider turtles and other aquatic plants and snails.

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(Photo credit: Jennifer England, Franklin Elementary School, Corvallis)

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