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Invasive Species Use "Kissing Landmarks" to Find Love

Mar 14, 2015 11:27 PM EDT

It's difficult enough to make friends after moving to a new neighborhood but finding love is a whole other can of worms. And when you're not exactly welcome there, the task could seem nigh-impossible. Such is the case for many invasive species, but researchers are finding that these nuisances are meeting at recognizable landmarks to hook up.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Theoretical Ecology which details how understand where and when these landmarks become mating hotspots for invasive species can help conservationists prevent future invasions from reaching uncontainable numbers.

"We recently found that only ten Asian carp are needed to establish a population in the Great Lakes," Kim Cuddington, an ecology professor from the University of Waterloo said in a recent statement. "But then we asked, if there are so few individuals initially, how do they find a mate and create an ecological disaster?"

She recently determined that invasive carp, butterflies, and several other creatures all likely congregate at easily identifiable locations in a new vulnerable environment, such as the tallest tree, mountain, etc. to find one another. This strategy, known as "landmarking" was easily identifiable again and again, but it remained unclear how exactly these invaders know where to go.

Cuddington turned to math, of all things, for the answer, calculating combinatorics - a question of probability among a series of possible outcomes. The question the researcher asked specifically was "what is the probability of a male finding a female at a fixed number of sites?"

Naturally, the more unique the site, the higher the probability that two of opposite genders would gravitate towards it. Among Asian carp, for instance, simple comfort or curiosity led them to travel to regions of unique water quality or flow.

" When we see Asian carp use landmarking, officials need to worry" Cuddington added, as the number of landmarks found in the region is finite - meaning that more and more invasive fish will easily find one another and reproduce.

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