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DEC announces 5-year partnership with New York Invasive Species Institute, Cornell University to address impacts of invasive species

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Mon, Sep 28th 2020 10:40 am

Agreement targets invasive species research, control & mitigation

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently announced new partnerships with the New York Invasive Species Research Institute (NYISRI) and Cornell University to develop and support projects and research to help limit the spread of invasive species. The announcement was made during New York’s recognition of Climate Week 2020. Climate change facilitates the spread and establishment of many species and creates new opportunities for them to become invasive. In addition, invasive species can reduce the resilience of natural habitats, agricultural systems and urban areas to climate change.

“New York state recognizes the challenges we face preventing the spread of invasive species, particularly in light of our changing climate, changing habitats and changing ecosystems,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “With sustained support and investments through the Environmental Protection Fund, DEC’s invasive species program continues to be a national leader, and the work of Cornell and the New York Invasive Species Institute bolster and complement New York’s efforts to effectively manage invasive species.”

Cornell University is the current host for the Invasive Species Research Institute. Nearly 50 scientific investigations about invasive species have been/are being conducted. This announcement sustains the state’s ongoing collaboration with NYISRI to coordinate invasive species research and develop outreach efforts to conserve New York’s hemlock resources in the face of multiple threats, particularly the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA), an invasive insect.

Supported by the state’s Environmental Protection Fund with $3.5 million, the NYISRI five-year term agreement includes $2.5 million for invasive species projects; the agreement with Cornell University includes a two-year term with $1 million to support the New York Hemlock Initiative.

The five-year project memorandum of understanding will support key positions and services at NYISRI for focused work on identifying invasive species, education, outreach and targeted control efforts. NYISRI performs many critical and innovative tasks in the field of invasive species research, including biological control of water chestnut (Trapa natans), swallow-wort (Cynanchum spp.), and Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria spp.), as well as measuring success and associated metric development and coordinating invasive species research needs in New York.

New York is home to vast stands of eastern hemlock trees (Tsuga canadensis). These trees are threatened by the introduction of the invasive insect HWA and other environmental stressors. HWA is now a serious threat to the survival of hemlock in eastern forests. Funded through the MOU, Cornell’s New York Hemlock Initiative provides a critical service by developing methods to conserve hemlock, including the growth and release of several biological control agents and other fundamental survey, research and trend analyses.

The Hemlock Initiative includes collaboration with professional land managers, state and federal agencies, government officials, and concerned citizens to understand the issues and strategies for minimizing the impact of forest insect pests and non-native invasive insects, such as HWA. Research is now underway on the forest stand dynamics of invasive non-native forest pest impacts and implementation of biological control strategies for HWA. This initiative involves the completion of a statewide prioritization of hemlock stands, establishment and maintenance of hemlock nursery stock to host biocontrol agents, and the rearing, release and monitoring of non-native predatory insects into the environment to reduce the severity and extent of HWA infestations in New York and reduce or prevent hemlock mortality.

Cornell University also houses the Sarkaria Arthropod Research Laboratory, a quarantine facility that provides research capacity for arthropods and experimentation on their biology and control. The facility houses exotic pest species and nonindigenous arthropods with the potential to serve as biological control agents of pests.

The outcomes of these projects inform activities undertaken by DEC, NYISRI, New York’s eight Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISMs) and other partners.

Additional areas of focus include:

•Water Chestnut Biological Control: Water chestnut, an aquatic invasive species, has had significant negative ecological and economic consequences. Conventional mechanical control of water chestnut is labor intensive and must be maintained in perpetuity. However, development of a biological control program offers hope for a cost-effective and ecologically sound alternative. Cornell University evaluated a potential biocontrol agent between 2002 and 2005. This contract will allow for the continuation of work initiated at Cornell University to test and implement a biocontrol program for water chestnut.

•Swallow-wort Biological Control: Swallow-wort is an aggressive invasive perennial plant that forms dense patches in a variety of habitats and which may have negative impacts on monarch butterfly populations. Current practices to control invasive swallow-worts include the application of herbicides and mechanical removal. These practices can have negative side effects. The pilot biological control project was initiated in New York in 2018. Maintaining the established Swallow-wort Biocontrol Research Collaborative supports rearing and releases of an approved biocontrol agent for swallow-worts.

•Japanese Knotweed Biological Control: Japanese knotweed is a perennial herb with shrub-like form that grows 3 to 9 feet and threatens riparian corridors, fens, springs, ravines, forests and streamsides. This five-year agreement will renew efforts to locate and test additional biocontrol agents for Japanese knotweed using demographic and phylogenetic approaches.

Dr. Bernd Blossey, professor, department of natural resources for NYISRI/Cornell University, said, “With the significant long-term funding provided by the DEC, we are enabled to continue important fundamental and applied work to help protect and restore New York’s biodiversity and ecosystems in collaboration with other scientists and land managers across the state.” 

Entomologist Mark Whitmore of Cornell University said, “State support for the New York State Hemlock Initiative has been crucial for our ability to develop a network of cooperators and management strategies, including biological controls, in response to the threat to our hemlocks posed by HWA. The rapid and coordinated response by DEC and private conservation organizations with the recent discovery of HWA in the Lake George area is a prime example of how education and planning can help save the magnificent hemlock forests of New York.” 

For recent news on discoveries and treatment of HWA in New York, see: 

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