Invasive species are becoming more and more of a problem, especially as climate change warms parts of the Northern Hemisphere, making regions more habitable for invaders. This is particularly true for wetlands, a new study finds, where changing temperatures are tipping the scales in favor of nonnative plant species.
The study, published in the journal Ecological Applications, details how factors like changing surface-water temperature, rainfall patterns, and river flow is contributing to the rise of invasive species like Japanese knotweed, hydrilla, honeysuckle, and privet.
That, in addition to the damage human activity has inflicted on ecologies, is leaving wetlands in the United States particularly vulnerable to invasion.
"It's death by a thousand small cuts. Each change, on its own, may yield only a slight advantage for invasive species, but cumulatively they add up," study co-author Curtis J. Richardson, director of the Duke University Wetland Center, explained in a statement.
He goes on to add that if these invasive species are left to march on unchecked, they will lead to a stunning reduction in diversity in the Northern Hemisphere, and could even help facilitate the local extinctions of a number of species.
The research centered around statistical modeling of long-term plant abundance and growing conditions at 24 riparian floodplain sites in North Carolina and Virginia over a three-year period, using data from field surveys and real-time measurements of water levels and temperatures.
The study also highlights how the vulnerability of these regions can be attributed to a loss of synchronicity between water levels, floodplain plants, and related fauna (birds, insects, etc.) - an effect of climate change that was found to be harming the migratory red knot, the US Fish and Wildlife Service's latest addition to the Endangered Species Act list.
"These findings underscore the need for us to better understand the interaction between climate, land use and nutrient management in maintaining the viability of native riparian plant communities," Richardson added.
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