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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Identifying Vulnerable Ecosystems and Supporting Climate-Smart Strategies to Address Invasive Species Under Climate Change

Overview

Invasive species establish outside of their native range, spread, and negatively impact ecosystems and economies. As temperatures rise, many invasive plants can spread into regions that were previously too cold for their survival. For example, kudzu, ‘the vine that ate the south’, was previously limited to mid-Atlantic states, but has recently started spreading in New Jersey and is expected to become invasive farther north. While scientists know of many of the invasive species expanding into the northeastern U.S., they do not know where those species are likely to become abundant and how they will impact vulnerable native ecosystems due to climate change. There are also currently no strategies to manage emerging invasive species impacts and promote resilience in vulnerable ecosystems. Once invasive species have gained a foothold and become abundant, the chance to prevent or eradicate them is gone.  

The most cost-effective way to protect ecosystems is to stop invasive species before they arrive. It is essential that scientists proactively identify vulnerable ecosystems and help resource managers build adaptation strategies. This project is using spatial modeling to project the potential abundance of 50 high-impact invasive plants by 2050. The research team will use this information to map ecosystems vulnerable to abundant invasions across the Northeast region. Guidelines will be further synthesized for climate-driven management of invasive species and climate change in order to inform adaptive management and monitoring in these vulnerable ecosystems. The resulting vulnerability assessments and management recommendations will directly inform management of collaborators in the Northeast Regional Invasive Species & Climate Change (RISCC) Management Network, the New York Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISMs) and Federal, state, and non-governmental organizations focused on conservation (including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies). This work will lead to more proactive and successful invasive plant management in a changing climate.