Audubon Florida News

Audubon Florida’s Invader Updater – November 2012

posted on November 9, 2012 in Invasive Species,Wildlife

“Why Florida?”  This is a question asked by many Florida residents and visitors when they hear about the invasive species problem plaguing our state.

Invasive species ecology tells us that two types of sites are particularly prone to devastation by non-native species: habitats created or disturbed by humans and islands.  Thus in the U.S., Hawaii and Florida have the biggest problems with invasive species.  But Florida is not an island, right?

Actually, the ‘frost belt’ that reaches across the upper part of the Florida peninsula creates a barrier for most tropical and sub-tropical species, essentially causing peninsular Florida to act like an island for these species.  Additionally, peninsular Florida has a large number of ornamental plants and pets (sources of non-native introductions), contains several large transportation hubs (approximately 85% of plant shipments to the U.S. pass through Miami!), supports an active tourism industry, and has a highly-altered aquatic system that is great habitat for non-native plants and animals.  Non-native species jeopardize the ecological integrity of our native system and many species have direct negative impacts on natives.

As lower humidity and other subtle signs of Florida’s fall set it, many of us are crawling out of the air conditioning and reacquainting ourselves with the great outdoors.  Remember- while you’re out enjoying your neighborhood or favorite park, you can be a valuable asset to the invasive species problem by keeping an eye out for and reporting invasive species.

Visit our website to learn how easy it is to report your sighting online or using an easy smartphone app.

Species Spotlight: LIONFISH 

Native to the South Pacific and Indian Oceans (including the Great Barrier Reef), the ornate fins and unique tiger-like stripes of lionfish have made them a popular pet of aquarium hobbyists.  First reported off Florida’s Atlantic Coast in Broward County in 1985 (likely released from aquaria), lionfish populations since have experienced remarkable growth and spread throughout the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and the Caribbean (click here) for a fascinating map animation of their spread).  With no significant predators in U.S. waters, these predatory reef fish eat and compete for food with native fish, and have the potential to cause serious damage to our coral reefs.

Usually less than 15 inches long (but reaching 22 inches), lionfish have venomous spines and should be handled with care.  Harvest (and subsequent consumption) by spear and dip nets is encouraged by FFWCC, with the texture and taste comparable to hogfish or black sea bass.  Lionfish sightings can be reported to www.ivegot1.org (provide photos if possible).

Notable Invasive Animal Reports This Month (by County):

Have specific questions about invasive animals, how to report a sighting or how you can help in your area?  Feel free to contact me, Dr. Shawn Liston (sliston@audubon.org).

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