Say the words “invasive species” in relation to water quality, and most folks immediately think of zebra mussels, Asian carp, and hydrilla.
Yet, terrestrial invasives such as wintercreeper, bush honeysuckle, and Tree of Heaven can also threaten our area rivers, streams, and lakes just as much as their aquatic counterparts.
An invasive species is one not native to the Ozarks, whose introduction will likely cause economic or environmental damage, or harm human, animal, and plant health.
Generally, invasives easily adapt to environmental conditions, out-compete native species, and create a monoculture with no biological diversity.
Wintercreeper, a fast-growing evergreen vine, is one of the most common terrestrial invasive species in the James River basin.
Originally introduced to the US as an ornamental ground cover in the 20th century, it soon escaped cultivation and began to wipe out native plants.
While climbing a tree, wintercreeper steals nutrients away from its hosts in a parasitic role.
“It takes a community effort to stop the spread of wintercreeper,” said Caleb Sanders, director of the Watershed Conservation Corps (WCC). “Environmental groups and local government can’t do it alone.”
Wintercreeper is dispersed by birds and other wildlife through consumed seeds. Stormwater can also serve as a vector for seed dispersal. Reducing the seed load would have a dramatic impact on land downstream.
Invasive species are the ecological equivalent of an impervious parking lot, in terms of stormwater runoff.
Macroinvertebrates, the bottom-dwellers who can tell us a lot about water quality, are less diverse in areas infested with invasives.
Leaf defoliation leads to disrupted food chains of macroinvertebrates and other animals, as well as fish habitat.
The WCC is involved in several invasive species removal projects, including a conservation easement along Wilson’s Creek at Rutledge-Wilson Farm Park.
The project is part of the James River Basin Partnership’s Wilson’s Creek Implementation Project to remove wintercreeper and bush honeysuckle.
WCC is also partnering with the City of Springfield Department of Environmental Services to remove wintercreeper and bush honeysuckle along the Jordan Creek greenway trail between Grand and Mount Vernon Streets.
“For a municipality, it’s an important step to avoid spreading invasives to your neighbors downstream,” said Sanders.
“Figuring out how to fund projects to deal with invasive species removal in riparian zones is critical.”
WCC has also assisted Springfield’s Water Quality Grounds Management Crew with invasive species removal along the South Creek Restoration Project on Sunset Street.
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