Skip to main content

Recommended Resource: A Q&A with RISCC Co-Founder Bethany Bradley

Friday, April 28, 2023

Since its inception seven years ago, the Northeast Regional Invasive Species and Climate Change Management Network (RISCC) has produced a wealth of resources that shed light on the compounding effects of invasive species and climate change. In addition to publishing a variety of original research papers in peer-reviewed journals, RISCC team members have also developed more than a dozen "management challenges" that synthesize existing knowledge on key topics for managers, and produced more than 100 summaries of publications with implications for invasive species management.

Given this vast output, the NE CASC communications team recently spoke with Bethany Bradley, a RISCC co-founder and leadership team member, to discuss one of her favorite resources that RISCC has generated so far. In this brief Q & A, Bradley explains in her own words why "Gardening with Climate-Smart Plants in the Northeast", a management challenge handout, resonates especially strongly with her, how management concerns help shaped its development, how this resource relates to key themes in her research, and how it helps chart a path for future RISCC investigations.

NE CASC Communications (NE CASC): Please tell us a little about yourself.
Bethany Bradley (BB): I currently serve as University Co-Director and a Principal Investigator for NE CASC, and I am a Professor of Biogeography and Spatial Ecology in the Department of Environmental Conservation at UMass Amherst. I also am a co-founder of the Northeast Regional Invasive Species & Climate Change (RISCC) Management Network. I am interested in how the geographical locations of species across landscapes and regions can inform ecological understanding of species distributions, invasion risk assessments, and conservation planning. My research has a strong focus on terrestrial plant invasions, with a goal of understanding how invasion risk varies spatially in the context of human disturbance and climate change.

NE CASC: RISCC has produced a wide range of resources for the invasive species community. Tell us about one of your favorites. 
BB: The Management Challenge handout, "Gardening with Climate-Smart Native Plants in the Northeast" is my selection. It is a "beginner resource", targeting a home-gardening audience, that's for people hoping to introduce climate-smart species to their own landscaping in order to support local flora and fauna better. I consider it one of my favorite resources because it applies to my personal life. Over time, I have been converting my own landscaping from a lawn into a meadow. It’s been really fun for me to learn about native flowering plant species and how many there actually are. When home gardeners shop at Home Depot or similar stores, they inevitably find a limited selection of plants. Moreover, 75% of the inventory isn’t even from North America, giving the impression that beautiful or appealing plants are not native. As I have learned, however, this simply isn’t true! What I hope our community will learn–and what this resource illustrates–is that there is a wide range of amazing plants from eastern North America that are easy to find for home gardeners armed with the right information. In addition to providing this information, this resource also shows just how cool our native plants are! 

NE CASC: How were partners or stakeholders involved with the development of this resource? 
BB: We worked on developing this resource back in 2019 and 2020, and at that point we had been talking a lot to state invasive plant councils and doing a lot of RISCC work to address management needs. However, a recurring problem is that we keep introducing invasive species as ornamental plants. Our research has documented that this is a significant issue within and beyond the Northeast region.  Everybody loves plants, and no one is deliberately trying to harm the environment, but any time non-native plants are introduced as ornamentals there is a risk they will become invasive. The public and the ornamental plant industry want to have beautiful landscapes without having negative impacts, so this resource responds to that desire and can be used by growers and landscapers, too. Homeowners are getting more and more excited about pollinator gardens and supporting native flora and fauna - this resource builds on that momentum and adds the consideration of climate change.

NE CASC: How does this resource relate to larger questions you are investigating? 
BB: The theme of working with nurseries and the native plant side of things has remained an ongoing focus at  RISCC. Following development of the “Gardening with Climate-Smart Native Plants” resource, we released a companion handout  (“Do Not Sell") that is also centered on native ornamental species but is intended to help inform nursery retail practices. Right now we’re working on analyzing a survey to understand how growers obtain information about invasive and climate change so that we can effectively participate in this process.  We're also compiling information on native plants by collecting historical nursery records, finding “heirloom varieties”of native plants that have fallen out of the trade. Finally, we have compiled a list of what’s currently offered for sale using nursery catalogs (approximately 150 catalogs across the Northeast, which Suvi Birch from the CAST program helped with) - our goal is to connect with nurseries and growers who are focusing on native species so that we can share knowledge and best practices. This is laying the groundwork for more RISCC engagement with existing networks of nursery practitioners.