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Can plant invasions be prevented? Multidisciplinary identification and interception of non-native, invasive plants at the Port of Savannah, Georgia, USA

Photo of The invasive plant collection team after a morning of vacuuming seeds from refrigerated shipping containers at the Port of Savannah in November 2016. The team collected non-native, potentially invasive, plant seeds with backpack vacuums. The invasive plant collection team after a morning of vacuuming seeds from refrigerated shipping containers at the Port of Savannah in November 2016. The team collected non-native, potentially invasive, plant seeds with backpack vacuums. Snapshot : The positive relationship between increasing national gross domestic product (GDP) and non-native plant species-richness suggests that international trade volumes probably contribute to exotic plant invasions and that major seaports may serve as gateways for plant propagules (e.g., seeds or other structures that can found a new population in a new range). The Port of Savannah, 11-miles in on the Savannah River from the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the nation's largest and busiest container terminals in North America. Forest Service scientists and their collaborating partners designed a research study to: (1) examine the baseline plant diversity at the container terminal; and (2) assess the species diversity, propagule pressure, and the risk of new, non-native plant invasions from cryptically hitchhiking seeds on shipping containers.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Lucardi, Rima 
Research Location : Port of Savannah's container terminal, Georgia, USA.
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2017
Highlight ID : 1316

Summary

Non-native (or exotic), invasive plant species are moved by humans or natural dispersal events, from one continent to another. Invasive plants negatively impact the economy, ecology, and agro-security of the nation. The southern region of the U.S. is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, with major ports on both coastlines, including Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Miami, and Savannah. The South is also home to many pervasive and costly invasive plants and animals. Collaborative research led by the Forest Service seeks to evaluate if major seaports, such as the Port of Savannah, are hot-spots of non-native plant diversity and gateways of non-native plant dispersal. Floristic surveys were conducted at the container terminal and the scientists found the Port of Savannah to have low overall plant diversity but disproportionately high non-native plant species-richness when compared to regional surveys. They collected seeds from refrigerated shipping containers, with focus on a single agricultural commodity over two seasons at the Port of Savannah. Working with multiple herbaria, they utilized a two-pronged approach to identify plants from both floristic surveys and seed collections: morphological (taxonomic keys) and molecular (DNA barcoding). They also found invasive, listed Federal Noxious Weeds, and the study remains on-going.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • Arkansas State University
  • Columbus State University, Georgia

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