Invaders: Citizen Scientists Help Combat Invasive Plants
A changing climate may create conditions such as more precipitation or drought that help invasive plants spread and outcompete native plants. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is enlisting volunteers in the campaign against invasives.
An invasive plant is a species that when introduced into a new habitat has negative economic, environmental, and/or human health impacts. Invasive plants can completely change an ecosystem. By crowding out native plants, invasives can dominate formerly diverse areas transforming them into monocultures, or single-species areas. Climate change is one factor that may help invasive plants establish in an area.
The Invaders program at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum was the first of its kind in the United States. Its mission is to research the impacts of invasive species in the Sonoran Desert, map their spread, work on their eradication, and educate the public about these species. A key component of the program are the Citizen Scientists, volunteers who are trained to recognize and track these invasive species. In addition, the Citizen Scientists perform community outreach and invasive plant control.
One of the most detrimental invasive plants to the Sonoran Desert is buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare). The grass can produce large quantities of seeds after a light rain and spread thickly enough to outcompete native plants for space and water. The grass does not die back during dry periods, providing fuel for fires which kill native plants. The Invaders program volunteers helped map the distribution of buffelgrass and have been involved in control projects. This early work helped establish the Southern Arizona Buffelgrass Coordination Center. Today, thanks to funding from REI, the Desert Museum continues to map and remove buffelgrass with the help of dedicated volunteers. Click the link below to learn more.