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Responding to arrival of non-native species as a result of climate change

Much of nature is a delicate balance between species of plants and animals and their habitat's temperature, soil conditions, and the amount of water available. For instance, cactus won't grow outdoors in Massachusetts because it needs more heat and sunlight, and much less water than the New England climate provides.

While we don't have to worry about a cactus invasion in the northeastern United States in the near future, we do have plenty to worry about in terms of climate change and a rise in invasive species. As weather cycles become more intense, extreme heat, cold, drought and flooding are extinguishing native plants and animals in increasing numbers. At the same time, other species that perform well in these adverse conditions move in and flourish.

For example, as the climate warms in Texas and other parts of the American southwest, Africanized bees are moving northward, along with fire ants that are on the march further and further up the Florida Panhandle. Non-native weeds like cheatgrass and starthistle are spreading into Idaho and Montana, choking farmlands and crowding out native grasses.

As with most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Once an invasive species arrives, it's very costly to deal with it. Many of the western states budget tens of millions of dollars a year to fight invasive weeds that arrive on subtropical winds and sometimes the shoes of tourists and hikers from other countries. One of the simplest things you can do is to clean your shoes and boots before walking or hiking in new areas. You can also garden and landscape more with native plants instead of exotic species. Stay informed on your state's list of invasive plants and avoid planting them or pull them up where you see them.

Invasive insects arrive in a number of ways. The worst is through migration patterns that have changed due to global warming. That's why we have invasive wasps that are killing honey bees that are crucial for pollenating food crops. Stamping out or mitigating their damage requires tax dollars and vigilance, and the best solution is to fund the organizations that do this work. The same holds true for controlling new and invasive species that are decimating the ash and elm tree population.

Invasive animals like the Asian carp, zebra mussel, python and nutria are exceedingly difficult to control. Insufficient shipping regulation released the first two into the Great Lakes, whose warming waters have made populations explode. Careless pet owners releasing pythons into the Florida Everglades caused another problem for native species. Hurricanes dispersed nutria rodents throughout Louisiana and Florida, where they have no natural enemies and have destroyed vast wetlands.

Again, the best way to mitigate these species is to act globally and locally to reduce carbon footprint, increase sustainable energy, and support agricultural policies. Taking personal responsibility for our choices of pets and landscaping, while coming together to address the wider issue of climate change will also help solve the problem.

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