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Are Horses An Invasive Species

author
Ava Flores
• Friday, 23 October, 2020
• 35 min read

Fish and Wildlife Service to list the animals as an endangered species because open rang eland is reduced and also less fit to graze. Many environmentalists see both the cattle and the horses as invasive species that compact the land in unnatural ways, making it hard for native plants to grow, and that take up what should be habitat for wildlife.

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(Source: www.habitatforhorses.org)

Contents

Many environmentalists see both the cattle and the horses as invasive species that compact the land in unnatural ways, making it hard for native plants to grow, and that take up what should be habitat for wildlife. To the two groups that filed the petition, Friends of Animals and the Cloud Foundation, this was the re-introduction of a native species, much like the federal government re-introduced the wolf and grizzly bear to the Yellowstone National Park area after they had been hunted to extinction through most of the nation.

It’s also a stretch to say that the Ice Age horse that went extinct thousands of years ago was, for most intents and purposes, the same as the one that now roams Western lands. Wolves were hunted to near-extinction in the lower 48 in about 1960; they made their reappearance about 20 years later, crossing over from Canada, and then were re-introduced to Yellowstone and Idaho in the 1990s.

It’s a rare bison that doesn’t have a strong strain of domesticated cattle in its blood. The musk oxen of Arctic Alaska aren’t natives; after those were hunted to extinction, new individuals were brought in from Greenland.

Considering that nature is not static, but rather is continually favoring some species over others, or bringing plants to places where they never lived before, how long does a plant need to hang around before it’s considered a legitimate resident and not an invader? The land that ancient wild horses trod was probably quite different from the range they graze today.

Americans cannot conceive of a “West” without cowboys, bugle-blowing cavalry and mounted Sioux Indians surging across open plains. This law authorizes the BLM to remove excess wild horses and burros to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands.

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(Source: aeon.co)

Culling the herd If you think the public has a bad reaction to shooting wolves as a management tool, try killing horses. Not surprisingly, according to biologists who authored a Slate Magazine article, “in just the past four years, wild horse and burro management has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $291 million, including $49 million annually to care for 46,000 captured feral horses in off-range corals.

According to the BLM, there were an estimated 47,329 wild horses and 10,821 burros on BLM-managed rang elands in 10 Western states as of March 1, 2015. “In Cloud’s remote mountain wilderness we have a perfect opportunity to step back and watch nature call the shots.

They claim western grasslands are protected by “biotic crusts” of loose soil held together by vegetation and micro-organisms. Grasslands are disappearing, they say, as wild horse hooves crush the biotic crusts, encouraging erosion and leaving wide swaths of the West permanently degraded, replaced with barren rock.

Wild horses have become such an icon of the American west that it’s easy to forget that humans introduced them to the continent five hundred years ago, during the age of European exploration. Horses quickly became part of Native American livelihoods and played an integral role in Western expansion, from Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the establishment of the open range ranching culture that still exists today.

Today’s horses, Equus ferns, are likely descended from a Arctic population that once spread throughout Eurasia and North America, taking advantage of land bridges exposed during glaciations. By 10,000 to 8,000 years ago, American horses had gone extinct, likely due to a combination of hunting and climate change.

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When Europeans brought horses back to the Americas 500 years ago, they were reintroducing a long-time native. We’ve known that horses were native to the Americas at least since Darwin, who was shocked to find Equus teeth and bones during his explorations of Patagonia in 1833.

And yet, well over a century later, the US Supreme Court oversaw a case to determine whether modern horses are native to North America. Based on growing genetic evidence, the scientific community is in consensus that modern horses are native, descended from ice-age grand sires.

On the BLM’s website, they list myths and facts about wild horses in the United States. The difference is between ice age landscapes and their modern versions is really about what’s gone missing: today, an entire functional guild of large herbivores and their predators, including horses, are absent.

It’s not surprising that the domesticated horses brought by Europeans went feral and quickly adapted to conditions in the west; they’d only been gone for a few thousand years. When it comes to wild horses, time is used as an argument to justify special treatment, but in this case, I’d argue that species are the units that matter.

The semi-arid grasslands of the west co-evolved with horses, and there’s widespread evidence that large herbivores play important roles in their habitats, both past and present. Horses could play an important role in the restoration of overgrazed, heavily-invaded habitats, but that would take a sea change in the perspective of land managers in the west.

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My problem is not with ranchers who want to earn their livelihoods, but with land managers who are trying to hide preference behind the guise of objectivity. Maybe it’s time we stopped thinking of wild horses as invasive pests, and started celebrating them as a successful reintroduction.

As George Gaylord Simpson noted, the pattern of horse evolution was more like a shrub with tangled branches than a straight-trunked tree. All modern equips just happen to be the only survivors of what has been a rather diverse group over the evolutionary history of the horse.

Maguire, a 60-year-old cattleman, is leading a campaign to prevent Australian authorities from culling the wild horses, known as rubies. The horses, an invasive species whose populations are booming, must be removed because they are trampling ancient ecosystems in the Australian Alps already hurt by climate change, they say.

They see rubies, the descendants of horses introduced by European settlers, as symbols of a rugged individualism that they believe is being lost in modern Australia. Maguire’s lobbying for the rubies is part of a backlash to a growing movement in Australia to correct historical narratives that cast white settlers as conquering an “empty” and untitled continent.

Instead, there is now broad acceptance of Indigenous people’s careful guardianship of the land for tens of thousands of years, before their territories and culture were stolen. These efforts have been buoyed recently by the protests against racism in the United States, which have inspired activists around the world to tear down symbols of colonialism.

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In Australia, rural residents, who make up less than 30 per cent of the population, have often been at odds with city dwellers and urban politicians, seeing them as out of touch and incompetent in their management of the bush. In New South Wales, which is led by the center-right Liberal Party, former politicians with financial interests in tourism operations that depend on the rubies helped drive a 2018 bill protecting the feral horses.

The move by the state, Australia’s most populous, dismayed Australian and international scientists, who said it would set a “disturbing precedent”. In the state of Victoria, which has a center-left Labor government, officials say they intend to proceed with culling hundreds of horses after Maguire lost a legal battle there.

But leaving them to thrive in the bush, scientists say, would come at the expense of creatures and plants far more precious and rare. “Our native animals are our brothers and sisters,” said Richard Swain, an Indigenous alpine guide who advises the InvasiveSpecies Council, a conservation group.

But the stakes are immensely high, he adds, when plants that have survived hundreds of millions of years in the harshest conditions are at risk of being wiped out in favor of the descendants of a common farm animal. “In the blink of an eye, a couple of cowboys comes in, wave their whips around, everyone gets all misty-eyed, and those lineages are relegated to the trash can,” he says.

In the United States, park authorities spend more than $50m annually to manage booming mustang populations, which are protected from culling by federal law. In late May, Benedetto and a handful of other activists gathered at Maguire’s property, from which they made their way on horseback towards the foothills of the Australian Alps.

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(Source: www.agri-pulse.com)

1) Wild horses didn’t become extinct in North America and remnants of the ancient herds were still present in this hemisphere when Columbus landed in the New World in 1492. The two claims are at opposite extremes of an ongoing debate that surrounds the federal government’s wild horse roundups in the West.

Modern horses evolved in North America about 1.7 million years ago, according to researchers at Appeal University, who studied equine DNA. Scientists say North American horses died out between 13,000 and 10,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene Epoch, after the species had spread to Asia, Europe, and Africa.

Animals that subsequently escaped or were let loose from human captivity are the ancestors of the wild herds that roam public lands today. That’s the theory, but revisionists point out that some sources, including the Book of Mormon and Native American cultural tradition, say horses have been continually present on the continent long after the last Ice Age.

Lawmakers unanimously decided the free-roaming equines be “protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death, and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found as an integral part of the natural system of public land.” They are “native” rather than “livestock-gone-loose,” because they originated here and co-evolved with the American habitat, according to Jay F. Kirkpatrick, director of the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, Montana.

The horses were “reintroduced” to the continent, unlike the Asian clams in Tahoe or the rabbits of Australia, which were inserted into regions where Nature never put them and where they could disrupt the ecological balance. In reference to a human this shows the size that this towering invasive plant can reach.

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In the North Shore of Massachusetts, local middle and high school students attend field trips to the famed “Great Marsh” that happens to reside in their own backyards. They are accompanied by Mass Audubon staff scientists who are on a mission to educate the local youth on the importance of a healthy wetland ecosystem by maintaining biodiversity.

The Great Marsh in the North Shore of Massachusetts has the largest amount of coastal salt marsh in New England, and in 2004 it came to the attention of residents and stakeholders that the invasive plant common reed (Parasites Australia) has been affecting a substantial amount of native plants that established the biodiversity needed to maintain a healthy wetland ecosystem. Massive stands of common reed had displaced the once thriving wetland ecosystem.

Natural salt marshes act as sanctuaries for unique aquatic plants, coastal birds, and extensive marine life. When threatened, the pristine beauty of salt marshes is not the only commodity at risk: humans may also suffer (Ringelheim, Films, Baumann, & Castle, 2005).

Coastal Development, InvasiveSpecies Gypsy moth larvae consuming leaves In the late 1860s, a French scientist brought the gypsy moth to Massachusetts from Europe in the hopes of breeding disease-resistant genes into silkworms to improve and expand the silk industry (Leopold, 2003).

Due to his incompetence, a couple of his gypsy moth subjects made their way into the New England forest and found that they could live, breed, and thrive there. The carelessness of one scientist resulted in a gypsy moth invasion that persisted over the last hundred years and encompasses various ecosystems throughout the U.S. and Canada.

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As an example, a red oak that lies at the entrance of Dubbin Park in Belchertown, MA has been taken down due to it being mostly dead from gypsy moth defoliation (Miner, 2018). Not only does the gypsy moth cause an aesthetic decline among this once beautiful hardwood trees, but they also play the role of the small beginning in a larger catalyst effect.

Emily Baritone, Natural Resource Conservation; Charlotte Sidekick, Animal Science; Derek Trip, Building Construction Technology The Great Basin of the United States is currently inhabited by over 80,000 wild non-native horses.

Being a wild non-native species, they survive without the assistance of humans in a region outside their native distribution range. Historically, large predators such as mountain lions and wolves also roamed the landscape and could control these populations.

Humans eradicated nearly all large predators during the past century of extensive development. This has left many prey species, including horses, free to expand without limit (Jackson, S., 2018).

It took this moth ten years prior to establishment to reach a population level that was sizable enough to notice (Li behold, 2018). This rapid expansion was fueled by the vast amount of plant species the moth is able to feed upon and the limited predator it had.

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(Source: phys.org)

Even if you get to a doctor in time to save your life, you will most likely be left with mental and physical disability (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus is one of the most severe mosquito-transmitted diseases in the United States with approximately 33% mortality and significant brain damage in most survivors (CDC, 2018).

The cause can be traced back to something much larger than a mosquito, Invasive Burmese pythons. This snake has slithered its way through southern Florida, devouring native wildlife in its path.

This sharp decrease in wildlife populations has forced a change in the animals in which mosquitoes find their dinner. According to Mark Witch, a farmer in Nevada, “If I put my cows out here they will starve” (Philippe, 2014, para.

Feral horses pose numerous threats to not only United States ecosystems, but also to those using public lands for agricultural purposes. Although horses impact farmers, it is difficult to manage them because they are considered a charismatic or iconic species in many places including the United States (Bhattacharyya, Holcombe, & Murphy, 2011).

A charismatic species is one that humans place a unique value upon in regard to cultural, historical or personal significance, or based on aesthetics. In places like British Columbia, horses pose similar threats, yet management actions became restricted due to political and cultural values placed on horses due to historical significance (Bhattacharyya et al., 2011).

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This problem of limited space and vegetation for cattle will only get worse than horse populations grow. Feral horses inhabit approximately 34 million acres of grasslands and fields on public land in Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon, Utah, California, Arizona, North Dakota and New Mexico as well the Shackle ford, Sable, Assateague, and Cumberland Islands (Bradford, 2014).

Farmers can lease public land and increase their contributions to the economy when horses reach a manageable population size. Feral horses in the United States are causing approximately five million dollars in damage to the United States ecosystems’ vegetation (Pigmented, Each, Zúñiga, & Morrison, 2000, p. 54).

Since these animals do not belong to any organization, people or group, they are not contributing to the economy and only inflicting ecological damage. Feral horses pose an economic threat as they are causing only damage to vegetation found on public lands and contributing nothing.

Horses follow no invisible boundary where one farmer’s land ends and another begins, which is one of the reasons why feral horses negatively impact cattle farmers in the United States. Cattle farmers are forced to sue the government just so that the feral horses get removed from the land that they lease.

Farmers are even encouraged to “voluntarily” reduce their herds to half of their original size just so that they can keep up with the damage done by feral horses on grazing land (Philippe, 2014). Horses were introduced to North America by Spanish explorers in Mexico during the early 1500s and slowly roamed northwards into the American heartland (Kirkpatrick & Fabio, 2010).

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Horses overpopulated these areas because of the lack of natural predators coupled with an abundant amount of grassland (Bradford, 2014). Managing these horses needs to become a bigger focal point for federal regulators.

The definition of an invasive species is an organism that causes ecological harm where it isn’t native (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration , 2017, para. Horses fit this definition as they affect the U.S. ecosystem while they originally came from overseas.

Updated legislation includes the Stewart Provision, a law enacted in Utah that relocates horses to greener pastures to save the ecological integrity of the rang eland (St. George News, 2016). The government has recognized the issue of feral horses with legislative measures, but more action needs to be taken to effectively reduce their numbers and stop their negative impact on the United States Ecosystem.

United States ecosystems have suffered immensely due to the presence of feral horses over the years. Feral horses degrade soil quality and thus inhibit agricultural productivity.

There is a high correlation between proximity to a horse dung pile and the amount of bare ground exposure likely due to the horses trampling areas where dung piles are found causing vegetation to not grow (Alba & Lodi, 2014). Additionally, in areas that feral horses had access to, the amount of bare ground exposure was 7 times greater than in horse excluded areas in regard to riparian vegetation (Boyd, Davies & Collins, 2017, p. 413).

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(Source: invasives.org.au)

This signifies that with a high density of feral horses present in an area, less vegetation can grow and thus more exposed soil is seen. Agriculture is affected by the presence of horses because vegetation cannot grow in such compacted and eroded soil.

Horses have the ability to degrade habitat quality over time by altering the seed stock and lower the carrying capacity of the soil for vegetation (Turner, 2015). The overpopulation of feral horses can significantly impact vegetation growth due to overgrazing and compacting the soil thus taking away resources needed for cattle farming.

The overpopulation of feral horses negatively impacts United States ecosystems along with cattle farmers. The wild horse population constantly trends upward due poor management techniques (BLM, 2017a).

In the early 2000s, horses were captured and brought to Bureau of Land Management holding facilities which succeeded in making a 2:1 ratio of horses in the wild to animals removed for adoption (Committee of Bureau of Land Management, 2013, p. 16). Adopted horses can’t be sold out for adoption because of uncontrollable or tamable behaviors and age (Columbia Broadcasting System/Associated Press , 2008, para.

Adoptable horses or horses waiting to get adopted get brought to long term holding facilities where they are provided proper care, but uses a tremendous amount of government funding (Committee of the Bureau of Land Management, 2013, p. 212). These totals close to $40 million dollar per year to maintain these horses (Committee to Review the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Management Program, 2013, p. 301).

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If more holding facilities got built to store the approximately 33,000 horses needed to be removed for manageable amount in the wild, it would cost the U.S. nearly $30 million extra. Not only are adoptions bad for the economy and inefficient, capturing and transporting increases horses stress levels (Independent Technical Research Group, 2015).

Stress and proper handling was measured on live horses in Australia using different management techniques. According to studies performed on wild horse populations in Kosciusko National Park, management practices such as trapping and transport are used to bring wild horses to holding facilities (Independent Technical Research Group, 2015, Figure 1).

The study discovered that both capture and transport affected the horses behavior, social structure, health, and stress (Independent Technical Research Group, 2015, p. 19-22; p. 33-39). Transport to holding facilities can take hours to days with limited food and water for the horses.

Also, these horses were never handled by humans which increases the fear and stress of the animals. With a more efficient management strategy, the horse population will decrease which, in turn, will free up land and resources for cattle farmers and ranchers.

Similar to capturing horses for adoption, fertility control is another method used in the past yet unsuccessful in decreasing the population to a manageable size. The two main contraceptives used are Porcine Zone Pellucid (Pop) and Gonadotropin releasing hormones (GRH).

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Contraceptives proved unpredictable with repeated use and the difficulty of hand injections (Committee to Review the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Management Program, 2013, Table S-1). When using Pop as a fertility control method, it took 6 years of annual injections for the horse population to stabilize and not increase (Fort Collins Science Center, 2017, para.

Also, Pop increases the average age of mortality for mares (National Park Services, 2013, p. 123-124). Incorporating the number of horses that need to be eradicated, this would bring the total cost of the birth control method close to $18 million over a horse’s lifetime; a staggering statistic that shows fertility control isn’t a sustainable or smart choice.

Not only is fertility contraception expensive to reduce horse population size, but it is also not the best method in terms of efficacy. In order for both Pop and GRH, horses are captured and given the drug by hand or by using a dart (Committee to Review the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Management Program, 2013).

According to Kosciusko National Park, Pop increases the desire for stallions to stay near mares (Independent Technical Research Group, 2015, p. 64-67). When mares are given Pop they become infertile, but appear receptive to male horses (stallions).

GRH has a side effect that encourages mares to eat more vegetation (Ransom et al., 2014). Mares act infertile, allowing for increased energy used to eat more vegetation.

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With the use of contraceptives, horses will continue to negatively impact public agricultural land due to consuming of vegetation. Since there are so many side effects and issues with fertility control, other methods should be used to manage horse populations.

Wild horse populations are very hard to manage and bring down to a capacity suitable for the United States ecosystems. Methods such as adoptions and fertility attempted in the past reached little success.

Culling is cost effective, ethical if done properly, and reduces the horse population rapidly (Galápagos Conservancy, n.d). Culling is a common practice used to combat the negative impacts invasive species place on an ecosystem.

For instance, culling eradicated an invasive species of goats on Isabela island in the Galápagos. The goats ate plants that hindered the natural ecosystem of the tortoises (Galápagos Conservancy, n.d).

The project achieved this by getting funding to form a hunting team to eradicate the goat population. Helicopters served their purpose by quickly ridding areas of goat populations.

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This concept of leaving the body of an animal in the environment to restore an ecosystem would work well after horse cull. The removal of goats on Santiago island cost $8.7 million (Cruz, Carrion, Campbell, Lagoa, & Dollar, 2009, p. 1).

This amount of money can be compared to a case study on the cost of culling kangaroos in Australia. The government of Australia conducted culls with kangaroos due to their extremely high numbers (500 million) and consequent overgrazing of the land (Winiowski, 2013).

The data from the two case studies can help predict the cost of culling horses. A cull seems harsh, but it’s a feasible option that is the quickest way to revert our rang elands back to their original state.

Helicopters used to control the wild goat population on the Isabela islands was the quickest and least stressful way of controlling invasive populations as it allowed for the most rapid means of rounding up and killing the goats (Galápagos Conservancy, n.d). According to data collected from studies performed at Kosciusko National Park, aerial shooting was the most humane method of reducing and managing an overpopulation of wild horses (Independent Technical Reference Group, 2015, Table 1).

When using aerial shooting, there is no need to capture the horses (Independent Technical Research Group, 2015, p. 11) which decreases the amount of stress on the animals. Aerial shooting involves trained shooters to target horses in smaller groups and deliver instantaneous killing headshots (Independent Technical Research Group, 2015, p. 52-59).

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Aerial shooting takes an average of 73 seconds to chase and kill the horses (Independent Technical Research Group, 2015, p. 3). Aerial shooting is a quick method of reducing the population size of wild horses in a way that leads to less stress over long periods of time.

These issues negatively affect the lives of cattle farmers that reside in the Western United States. A culling initiative is the most effective and feasible means of combating overpopulation of wild horses.

Lethal management will drastically decrease the population of wild horses in a short amount of time. Bringing the horse population down to 26,715 by the end of the year will allow the ecosystems to rebound to a more natural state (BLM, 2017a).

Cattle farmers and agriculture will recover as the ecosystems bounce back from all the years of exploitation by the overpopulation of feral horses. Examining ecological consequences of feral horse grazing using enclosures.

The “wild” or “feral” distraction: effects of cultural understandings on management controversy over free-ranging horses (Equus ferns Catullus). Impacts of feral horse use on herbaceous riparian vegetation within a sagebrush steppe ecosystem.

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Using science to improve the BLM wild horse and burro program. Cruz, F., Carrion, V., Campbell, K., Lavoie, C., & Dollar, C. (2009) Bio-economics of large scale eradication of feral goats from Santiago Island, Galápagos.

As wild horses overrun the west, ranchers fear land will be gobbled up. Environmental influences on movements and distribution of a wild horse (Equus Catullus) population in western Nevada, USA: A 25-year study.

For hundreds of years, the fishing industry has not only supported millions of Americans livelihood, but has also become an immense avenue of trade and commerce across domestic and foreign borders. Invasive species threaten this avenue and are estimated to cause the United States tens of billions in environmental and economic damage each year they remain in U.S. waters (Pasco & Goldberg, 2014).

An invasive species is defined as a non-native species in an ecosystem whose introduction will likely cause environmental harm (National InvasiveSpecies Information Center, 2006). Aquaculturists introduced the invasive Asian carp to the United States in 1970 for the sole purpose of controlling algae blooms in aquaculture ponds. Algae blooms are an increase in algae and green plants, that may carry toxins, due to an excess amount of nutrients in the water that deplete the amount of oxygen resulting in the death of fish (Environmental Protection Agency , 2017).

Once the Asian carp population settled into the surrounding bodies of water, they started to out compete native fish by appropriating their resources. To resolve the detrimental Asian carp issue, it is essential for humans to fulfill the role of their natural predators by creating a profitable fishing market to reduce their population in U.S. ecosystems.

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The presence of Asian Carp in the Ohio River led to a population crash of Gizzard Shad, a dominant planktivore species (aquatic organisms that feed on plankton such as zooplankton) in the early 1990s (Byron et al., 2017). Gizzard shad are small fish in the herring family that feed on these planktivore species.

The Asian carp consume up to 40% of their body weight in planktivores each day, leading to a decreased amount of food supply for Gizzard shad, which led to a decrease in their populations (Byron et al., 2017). In the river economies, commercial fisheries are essential to efforts of reducing the population of Asian carp.

To operate a healthy fishery, there must be a balance between predator and prey (Minnesota Sea Grant, 2017). To prevent commercial fisheries from shutting down, the demand of Asian carp needs to increase.

The best way to control an invasive species is to create a mechanism to prevent further introduction, create systems to monitor and detect new infestations, and to move rapidly to eradicate invaders (National Wildlife Federation, 2017). Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific, and are found invading the east coast of the US, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico (NOAA, 2017).

However, the U.S. combated the invasive lionfish by distributing permits for their removal to recreational divers (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2017). Permits catching lionfish allow one to use spear fishing methods; no permit is required for the removal of lionfish with the use of hook and line (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2017).

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Lionfish and Asian carp are both invasive species in the U.S., and they both became successful by their ability to reproduce rapidly, out compete native species for food and habitat, and avoid predation (NOAA, 2017). Therefore, we can confidently say that using a solution similar to what was used with Lionfish, will give us the results we are looking for with Asian carp.

Fortunately, Asian carp mature rapidly and reach a harvestable size at a young age (Michigan Department of Natural Resources , 2017). Since commercial fishers rely on large numbers of fish, the higher the population of Asian carp, the more they are able to catch and sell them.

Asian carp can create plentiful commercial fishing jobs and increase demand with the establishment of a proper marketing strategy. Industries are actively developing products and markets that utilize Asian carp in a high volume to keep up with increased fishing (Pasco & Goldberg, 2014).

One of the main ways Asian Carp are used after they are caught is in food dishes (Illinois Department of Natural Resources , 2017). In addition, Carp are commonly turned into kosher hot dogs, fish jerky and omega-3 oil supplements (Modern Farmer, 2015).

The community of Chicago was given an opportunity to sample the healthy and tasty fish free of charge, while teaching them about efforts to protect the Great Lakes from the invasive Asian carp (DNR, 2017). We aim to eliminate the negative perception of Asian carp through public exposure and outreach to promote it as a quality food item in domestic and international markets.

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Asian carp have the potential to invade the Great Lakes if no action is taken towards decreasing their population. Native fish populations rely on the same plankton as their main source of food during their larval stage.

If Bighead and Silver carp populations increase they can wipe out the larval population of native fish by striping away their key sources of nourishment at the vulnerable larval stage (New York InvasiveSpecies Information , 2011). If Grass carp were to spread into the Great Lakes, they will cause degradation of the water quality and damage to wetland vegetation by consuming aquatic plants (NY ISI, 2011).

Their foraging disturbs lakes and river bottoms, destroys wetlands, and increases murkiness in the water, making it more difficult for native fish to find food. The destruction and loss of aquatic vegetation also leaves native juvenile fish without proper cover from predators and reduces spawning habitats (Fisheries and Oceans Canada , 2017).

Once Black carp reach the Great Lakes, they will cause a decline in the native mussel population (Michigan InvasiveSpecies , 2017). Black carp consume native mussels and snails posing an immediate threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem (MIS, 2017).

Many of the native mussels are already considered an endangered species and the introduction of Black carp would only make it worse (MIS, 2017). A severe decline in the mussel population would be a huge problem for the Great Lakes.

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The decline of mussels will negatively affect the water quality because mussels act as biological filters that keep the water clean and healthy (State Of The Great Lakes, 2005). While the market for Asian carp is strong internationally, there has been some resistance in the U.S. due to the fact that Asian carp are looked at negatively as bottom feeders by society (Marble and Sec chi, 2013).

One way that markets have started to overcome this resistance is by simply referring to Asian carp as “silver fin”. The University of Arkansas conducted a blind taste test between canned tuna, salmon, and carp, this resulted in canned carp being rated better than both tuna and salmon (Marble and Sec chi, 2013).

This supports the theory that most of the resistant in the U.S. is due to the fact that society views Asian carp negatively (Marble and Sec chi, 2013). Other countries have utilized the fact that Asian carp reproduce with large amounts of eggs as another avenue of profit (Marble and Sec chi, 2013).

The collection of carp eggs has become a growing part of the caviar market but has yet to be utilized in the U.S. (Marble and Sec chi, 2013). The market price of Asian carp is very low because of its current abundance in U.S. waterways (Marble and Sec chi, 2013).

If communities are made aware of the quality and palatability of Asian carp, the demand for them would increase in local markets (Marble & Sec chi, 2013). Many communities pride themselves on local food production and consumption, which could be a valuable asset in marketing the carp.

tansy ragwort invasive species plants british animals identify bcinvasives columbia information
(Source: bcinvasives.ca)

The local and commercial fishing industries are an extremely important part of the United States environmental and economic well-being. Asian carp are a type of fish that are very good at hunting prey and can reproduce quickly, making it essential to create a population decline in order to protect the natural ecosystem.

Creating a consumer market for carp will not only solve the problem of overpopulation, it will also be beneficial for our economy and our environment. As of recently, various fisheries all over the country have suffered due to these carp spreading into more and more waterways (NOAA, 2017).

Since fisheries are a billion dollar industry, Asian carp are essentially creating an economic problem (NOAA, 2017). To reduce the current population, fishermen first need to fish out a majority of the carp, which they will then sell to local businesses and vendors.

The native fish could then start to rebalance the natural food web again, keeping the rivers healthy. Asian Carp are clearly a very successful yet detrimental, invasive species to the United States.

(2016). An Annotated List of the Fishes of the Western Basin of Lake Erie with Emphasis on the Bass Islands and Adjacent Tributaries. Jordan Fielder, a nineteen-year-old boy, was enjoying a fun day on the Illinois river with his family when all of a sudden a large fish launched from the water like a missile, and smashed into his face.

The fish fractured his nose, dented his forehead, and shattered bones in his eye sockets and brow (Chairman 2015). Jordan commented, “If it had hit me any harder it could have broken my skull bones and essentially damaged my brain and killed me on the spot”(Chairman 2015).

For Jordan this was a fun family day on the river, turned to a near death experience. The carp easily become scared by boat motors or other loud noises which causes them to jump out of the water (Shank man 2015), turning their large bodies into a dangerous projectile which can clearly hurt people in their path.

As harmful as they can prove to humans, they are just as bad for the ecosystem, as is seen with many invasive species. In the 1950s, East Africans introduced Nile perches to Lake Victoria to strengthen a lacking fishing industry (Micalizio, 2015, p. 1).

The environmental effects of this introduction completely transformed the Lake Victoria ecosystem. Voracious appetites and bountiful prey allowed the top-tier predator Nile perch to cause the extinctions of over 200- species of fish native only to Lake Victoria, such as cichlids.

In 1973, the Sudan catfish and African sharp tooth had catch rates of 44 pounds per hour. Whereas the Nile perch showed a catch rate of zero in 1973, but jumped to 176 pounds per hour by 1987, 4 times higher than the native catfish species when they were at peak abundance (p. 28).

A domino-effect occurred from the loss of native species, leading to outbreaks of insects and algal blooms (Nile perch, 2014, p. 6). The fishermen and their families cannot eat the fish themselves, they have too high a value and eating them means a loss in profits, yet fishermen go on longer fishing trips now than in the past to try and keep up with demand (p. 9).

The Nile perch serve as an example that represents how non-native freshwater fish introductions can derail an ecosystem and community if not well-controlled or managed (Title et al., 2009). There is such an introduction happening right under our noses here in the United States, the invasive Asian carp.

One such invasive species, the Asian carp, have made a name for themselves here in the United States, introduced to control phytoplankton and for aquaculture. The U.S. imported silver and bighead carp in the 1970s from Asia for research purposes, putting them into wastewater lagoons and aquaculture ponds and observing if they improved water quality (Taylor et al., 2001, para.

Federal and state agencies, private citizens, and researchers imported and introduced the grass carp from eastern Asia in 1963 to control aquatic plants in fish farms (Grass carp, 2013, para. The U.S. attempted to use the black carp as a food resource and to control yellow grubs in aquaculture ponds (para.

Invasive Asian carp demonstrate trends of rapidly increasing abundance a short time after their introduction. In the Missouri River in South Dakota, the abundance of Asian carp skyrocketed from 2009-2012 (Layer et al., 2014, p. 294).

This 15x increase demonstrates the ability of Asian carp to overwhelm an area in as little as 9 years. Asian carp filter feed and voraciously consume algae and zooplankton, primary food sources for native fish species like gizzard shad, paddle fish, and bigmouth buffalo (Asian carp overview, 2015; Irons et al., 2007; Sampson et al., 2009).

Small zooplankton such as conifers compose a large part of the diet of many native filter feeders, however, Asian carp consume them as well. In one section of the Mississippi River, Asian carp cut the abundance of conifers from 6000 per liter of water in 2002, to 3500 in 2003, nearly a 50% decrease in only one year (Sampson et al., 2009, p. 488).

Thus reducing the amount of available prey, and forcing predatory species to feast more heavily on other organisms such as cope pods, seldom consumed by many fish, but compose nearly 62% of the diet of endangered paddle fish (p. 489). Asian carp reduce the abundance of native species where they colonize (Layer et al., 2014; Phelps et al., 2017).

In 2012, Asian carp composed 50% of the catch, and emerald shiner dropped to 5% of the catch, equating to a 6x decrease in emerald shiner, and a 50x increase in Asian carp (Layer et al., 2014, p.298). In the Mississippi River, Asian carp caused the bigmouth buffalo population to decrease by 10%, instead of following the historically-observed increase of 35%.

After the invasion of Asian carp, the number of buffalo caught per hour decreased from 178 to 85 (Solomon et al., 2016, p.8). Predatory and game fish populations also undergo negative changes because before the young become large enough to eat other fish and crustaceans, they eat small plankton consumed by the invasive carp (Solomon et al., 2016, p.1).

The removal of plankton by Asian carp also casts residual effects on important prey species for predatory fish. For example Asian carp negatively affect gizzard shad, another filter feeder.

These shad comprise an important food source for predators of the ecosystem (Phelps et al., 2017, p. 11). Gizzard shad went from an average biomass increase of 10% to nothing because the Asian carp reduced their survival rate from 80% to 10%, preventing their population from growing (Phelps et al., 2017, p.5).

This massive decrease sends a negative effect right up the food chain of an ecosystem. Directly related to the shad population going down, the CPU of Asian carp increased over the same period of time showing that the native fish get out competed (Phelps et al. 2017, p. 11).

As carp became more prevalent in floodplain lakes, predators such as bass, catfish, gar and boffin started to disappear. White bass tested in this study, chose Asian carp first only 3 of 29 times (Wolf et al., 2017, p. 1141).

The study showed that large mouth bass chose to eat Asian carp first instead of native prey species only 4 of 29 times (Wolf et al., 2017, p. 1141). However, as none of Asian carp’s natural predators live in U.S. water systems, all of Asian carp’s natural predators would also be invasive species to these ecosystems and their implementation into U.S. waterways could cause further ecological impacts that are just as bad or worse than the negative impacts ensued by Asian carp infestations (National Wildlife Federation, n.d.).

A situation similar to this occurred when the cane toad was introduced to Australia in an attempt to control pests. These toads succeeded at their job but caused many negative side effects to the environment such as consuming large quantities of non-pest animals such as small lizards.

4) These toads were able to grow in numbers and cause such havoc due to their toxic skin and glands which leave them with no predators in this new environment. 4) With this knowledge at hand, the introduction of non-native predators in efforts to control the effects of Asian carp infestations does not seem like a smart option.

Invasive species cause vast amounts of damage to humans every year. The most recent economic study shows that the United States spends more than $120 billion every year to control invasive species (Sculls, 2016, para.

In 2010 alone, the U.S. spent $78.5 million dollars to keep Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes (“The cost of invasive species,” 2012, para. Even if you don’t care about fish, you should find this alarming because Asian carp affect rivers that flow in and out of the great lakes. With sixty-five million pounds of fish harvested from the great lakes every year, the lakes generate about one billion dollars in revenue for the local economy (“About our lakes: economy,” n.d., pg.

If Asian carp decrease native fish populations by eve one percent, that is a lot of money to lose. The Army Corps of Engineers implemented an electric fence along the Chicago ship canals to keep them from moving upriver (Kraft, 2013, para 6) This is bad for two reasons.

Another option is dumping poison into the rivers to kill off the carp (Hauler, 2010, para 10). This is bad because it could kill off all the native species along with it, and dumping poison into a river will only carry it further upstream, affecting more than just the target area.

With people struggling to come up with a viable solution, we have a proposition; add a predator into to U.S. waterways to combat the Asian carp. Luckily there is one species of predatory fish native to the Southeastern U.S., called an alligator gar, that many scientists are arguing could be used as an effective predator of Asian carp.

The use of a native predator could prevent against any negative effects that could be incurred from the of introduction of another invasive species to U.S. waterways. Alligator gar once existed through the Mississippi River and its tributaries all the way from Ohio to Illinois and down to the Gulf of Mexico.

The reason for this mass decline in alligator gar populations is mainly caused by humans. For one many people saw alligator gars as a “trash fish” with less value than commercial game-fish and targeted them for extermination and control (para.

Some other main reasons that humans targeted alligator gar in this way include that they are big, monster looking fish, thought to attack humans, and they were thought to deplete populations of commercial game fish (Carmela, 2016). Although these two notions about alligator gars fueled the drive to eradicate these species, both of them ended up being false.

There has never been a confirmed attack of an alligator gar on a human to date (Carmela, 2016, para. Scientists have only disproven these false notion recently through studies allowing light to shine onto alligator gars potential for controlling Asian carp infestations and reintroduction efforts are already underway in Illinois (Department of Natural Resources, n.d., para.

State officials must consider two constraints to determine if reintroduction efforts of alligator gar in U.S. waterways will be an effective measure of combating Asian carp infestations; effects of alligator gar on Asian carp populations and feasibility of an alligator gar reintroduction program. Many people including Dan Stephenson, biologist and chief of fisheries at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, criticize that alligator gar can actually consume Asian carp, saying they aren’t big enough to do so.

He says that their jaws just won’t open wide enough to fit most Asian carp (Garcia, 2016, para. At maturity, they can grow to be 10 feet in length and weigh up to 300 pounds (“Alligator gar,” 2009, para.

Considering that the biggest alligator gar can grow to be 3 times the weight of the biggest Asian carps in U.S. waterway and are opportunistic predators (Department of Natural Resources, n.d.), it is perfectly reasonable to assume that alligator gar can consume Asian carp, if not as full-grown fish but at the very least as adolescents; which could be even more effective as it would reduce the amount of Asian carp surviving to reproductive maturity. Alligator gar do in fact mostly target rough fish, including carp, and gizzard shad (Carmela, 2016, para.

According to recent research from Western Illinois University the short nose gar has a positive selection for Asian carp as they existed in the highest abundance, above any other prey item, in short nose gars stomachs (David et al., 2016, para. Additionally, as previously stated, Wolf et al. (2017) found that long nose gar showed a positive selection for Asian carp.

Reintroduction programs have been implemented successfully in the United States on many occasions bringing animals such as California condors and black-footed ferret populations back from the brink of extinction (Derrick et al., 2015). Fish and Wildlife Service started in 1985, by 2015 there were about 210 of them in the wild and 180 in captivity (Derrick et al., 2015, para.

On top of returning decimated species back to stable populations, predator reintroduction programs are also a tried and proven technique for combating the effects of rampant species population growth. The reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 had immense success combating the effects of unwanted elk population growth.

This increase in ecosystem health isn’t just because the wolves ate the elk and drove their populations down. In fact elk populations have actually increased since Gray wolf reintroduction into Yellowstone.

For instance in 1968, only about one-third of today’s elk numbers existed in Yellowstone (“Wolf reintroduction changes ecosystem,” 2011, para 9). If 108 gray wolves living in Yellowstone can have these positive effects on the ecosystem by consuming an increasing population of elk, it is likely that a small population of alligator gar, another top predator (U.S.

Fish and Wildlife Service, 2015), can have significant positive effects on U.S. waterways by consuming Asian carp. Fish and Wildlife Service from past successful reintroduction of animals such as gray wolves and California condors, the department is definitely capable of succeeding at yet one more species reintroduction, this time with alligator gar, and these efforts are already underway in Illinois (Department of Natural Resources, n.d., para.

Asian carp continue to spread and cause problems for the native fish wherever they invade. In these areas, native fish populations decrease by about half through being out competed themselves or through their food sources dying off (Phelps et al., 2017, p.6).

With Asian carp threatening to establish themselves in the great lakes, a billion dollar per year fishing industry comes under fire, as well as an amazing and unique ecosystem. This means that if something were to keep carp populations in check, they wouldn’t be such a big problem.

For example reintroducing wolves to the Yellowstone National Park region to control the effects of the elk population that was getting way out of control worked out very well and allowed the degraded conditions of the willow trees that the elk feed on to increase immensely (“1995 Reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone,” 2017, “Wolf reintroduction changes ecosystem,” 2011). Similarly alligator gars are the answer to keeping the effects of the Asian carp in check.

They grow large enough to eat them and other gars have shown a taste for Asian carp. If you have a large prey item, introduce a larger predator to keep it in check, and that is exactly what we propose to do with the alligator gar in regard to the Asian carp epidemic that threatens the Mississippi River Valley Basin and great lakes.

Population characteristics of bighead and silver carp on the northwestern front of their North American invasion. Weaning of alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) larvae to artificial diets.

Soft-release versus hard-release for reintroduction of an endangered species : an experimental comparison using eastern barred bandits (Preambles gunned). Incorporating basic and applied approaches to evaluate the effects of invasive Asian carp on native fishes: A necessary first step for integrated pest management.

Importance of gizzard shad in the diet of large mouth bass in lake Shelbyville, Illinois. Prey selectivity of common predators on silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys matrix): controlled laboratory experiments support field observations.

Known as wind chasers, these gray and white birds silently coast the surface of the sea until they hit land and finally begin their cackling breeding calls. Veterans of the breeding ritual pursue their mate of previous years while new birds start the quest for a lifelong partner.

Once they find each other, Shear water couples reacquaint themselves and continue the works of Mother Nature, laying one golden egg per mating pair. For the next couple of weeks both parents take turns incubating the egg and flying out to sea in search for food (Raise, n.d.).

Once the babies hatch, this becomes an almost impossible task, leaving the Shear waters exhausted from the care of their offspring. With fatigue weighing down their wings and their spirits, Shear waters easily fall victim to ecological problems like the introduction of predators.

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Sources
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