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USDA funds national invasive species response system



Arkansas – The United States is ramping up its efforts to combat the costly and environmentally damaging issue of invasive species. Recognizing the urgency of this challenge, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has allocated $650,000 to a research team to develop a comprehensive system aimed at early detection and rapid response. This initiative is crucial, considering invasive species cause an estimated $423 billion in damage globally each year.

The research, led by Caleb Roberts, a research ecologist at the Arkansas Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit, focuses on using cogongrass as a model species. This invasive grass, first identified in southeastern Arkansas in 2021, poses significant threats to timber production, increases the risk of wildfires, and adversely impacts biodiversity.

The traditional methods of passive detection of invasive species often fall short due to these species’ ability to adapt quickly to new environments. To address this, Roberts and his team are pioneering a novel approach that synergizes various scientific techniques. This method integrates population modeling, genetics, spatial modeling, and remote sensing. By employing these diverse methodologies, the team aims to predict the establishment locations and timings of invasive plants, thus enabling a more proactive approach to managing invasions.

Furthermore, the team intends to model the potential ecosystem impacts of invasive species spread, particularly focusing on how cogongrass could affect biodiversity and fire risk. The end goal is to establish a standardized workflow that can be applied across the United States for managing different invasive species effectively.

The team collaborating with Roberts includes esteemed experts like research ecologists Devan A. McGranahan and Carissa L. Wonkka from the USDA Agricultural Research Service, assistant professor Victoria M. Donovan from the University of Florida, and senior research scientist Hsiao-Hsuan Wang from Texas A&M University. Their collective objective is to empower stakeholders and private landowners with the tools and knowledge to proactively manage invasive species at various scales.

This project is not only a significant step in environmental protection but also underscores the University of Arkansas’ commitment to addressing major environmental challenges. By contributing to both ecological preservation and the state’s economy, this initiative marks a pivotal advancement in the ongoing battle against invasive species.

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