Fight against invasive species going hi-tech in...
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Feb 05, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Fight against invasive species going hi-tech in Canada

The same sort of techniques used to tackle felons and enemy combatants are being adapted in the fight against unwelcome visitors to our fields, forests and waterways, a forum in B.C. was told

OurWindsor.Ca

The names alone are enough to stock a film festival in Technicolor nightmares. Long-horned beetles and dog-strangling vine, water soldier and emerald ash borers, round goby, and European fire ants.

A war of the worlds rages on ceaselessly, all-but-untameable nature on one side, humankind’s relentless innovation on the other.

Dealing with invasive species has historically been a time-consuming, expensive and almost Sisyphean process. But science is making inroads.

This week, a forum in British Columbia was told that the same sort of techniques used to tackle felons and enemy combatants are being adapted in the fight against unwelcome visitors to our fields, forests and waterways.

Catherine Tarasoff, a professor at Thompson Rivers University, reported using drones to identify the yellow flag iris assailing B.C. forests. With drones, she said, it’s possible to zoom in so tightly she can examine the petals on a flower in areas difficult or dangerous to reach on foot.

Just seven years ago, a University of Montana research paper described how a hyper-spectral sensor was used to remotely “detect and classify leafy spurge patches” in the state’s rangeland.

“Our future objectives,” researchers said, “include incorporation of this technique into both unmanned serial vehicles and low-flying aircraft to create a cost-effective monitoring regime of invasive species.”

The B.C. forum also heard of projects using sniffer dogs to detect quagga mussels on boats returning to B.C. from foreign waters and DNA analysis to identify and deal with invasive species.

Hugh MacIsaac, a University of Windsor professor and Canada Research Chair in aquatic invasive species, told the Star he sent samples of zebra mussels from the Great Lakes to the program director in B.C. last year so they could train the dogs in detection.

“This is a very promising technique, given the dogs’ sensitive smell capability,” he said. “They are using the dogs in southern B.C. along the U.S. border where trailers and boats come up from systems like Lake Mead (Nevada) that are invaded.”

But he said that when it comes to aquatic invaders, Ontario and B.C. are waging different battles, with B.C. trying desperately to keep zebra mussels and other species out, while Ontario contends with invasive species already here.

With zebra mussels alone costing more than $75 million a year in Ontario, battling invasive species appears to be a growth industry.

In 2011, calling invasive species “a growing environmental and economic threat to Ontario,” the province established an Invasive Species Centre in Sault Ste. Marie.

Because the province imports more goods from more places in the world than any other part of Canada, it runs the greatest risk of invasive species inadvertently arriving in packaging, containers, ships or ballast water.

Wherever systems are under siege, science has been rising to meet the challenge.

Tracey Cooke, executive-director of the Sault Ste. Marie centre, said in an email that “detection strategies such as drone technology and use of sniffer dogs are in the early stages of use across Ontario, but have shown significant potential.

“The use of these strategies has the ability to allow for early detection of invasions and initiate a rapid response to eradicate the species before it causes irreversible harm.”

The centre also wants as many amateur eyes on the job as possible.

Last year, it received a grant of about $340,000 from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to establish an Early Detection and Rapid Response Network designed to fight the spread of invasive species.

It hoped to instruct conservation groups, woodlot owners and “citizen scientists” in identifying invaders in their areas, encouraging them to send photographs so sightings could be verified and entered in a database.

Ontario recently passed legislation that MacIsaac said contained “a very comprehensive program of invasive species prevention, eradication and rapid response.

“It is a very solid program,” he said. “Now it remains to be seen if the government will fund it properly.”

Toronto Star

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