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Invasive Investigators

Grade Level(s): 9-12
Time: 2 class periods
Group Size: one class

NYS Learning Standards Core Curriculum

Standard 1: Analysis, Inquiry, and Design
Students will: use mathematical analysis, scientific inquiry, and engineering design, as appropriate, to pose questions, seek answers, and develop solutions.

  • Key Idea 1: The central purpose of scientific inquiry is to develop explanations of natural phenomena in a continuing, creative process.

Standard 4: Living Environment
Students will: understand and apply scientific concepts, principles, and theories pertaining to the physical setting and living environment and recognize the historical development of ideas in science

  • Key Idea 1: Living things are both similar to and different from each other and nonliving things.
  • Key Idea 6: Plants and animals depend on each other and their physical

Summary

Students will learn about several of NY's aquatic invasive species and learn how humans play a role in the introduction of these species.

Objectives

  • Students will be able to identify at least two lakes and rivers found in NYS
  • Students will be able to identify several invasive species found in NYS
  • Students will be able to compare and contrast the vectors/methods in which invasive species are introduced into an environment
  • Students will be able to name several prevention methods to stop the spread of invasive species

Materials

Invasive Investigators Lesson Plan complete with handouts (PDF) (1.42 MB)

Vocabulary

  • Biodiversity- the number and variety of plant and animal species living in a given environment
  • Competition-the simultaneous demand by two or more organisms for the same resource
  • Generalist-a species that can live in a wide range of environmental conditions and can make use of a variety of resources
  • Invasive species- a non-native plant or animal deliberately or accidentally introduced into a new habitat whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or ecological harm.
  • Non-native species/exotic species- an organism living outside its native distributional range
  • Specialist- a species that can only live in a narrow range of environmental conditions or has a limited diet
  • Vector- the mode of transportation for an invasive species (ballast water, hitchhiker, intentional introduction, waterways, aquarium trade, bait release)

Background

Invasive species are also called: invaders, exotics, invasives, and non-native species. However, all names have the same definition. An invasive species is a non-native plant or animal deliberately or accidentally introduced into a new habitat whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or ecological harm.

Methods of Introduction

There are six recognized methods of introduction or vectors: hitchhiker, aquarium trade, ballast water, bait release, intentional introduction, and canals. All introduction methods are caused by humans, however some are deliberate and others are accidental.

Vectors

Hitchhiker-organism that "catches a ride" from one body of water to another; common rides include boat trailers, waders, nets, etc.

Aquarium Trade- Organisms introduced to new areas through aquarium and pet shop sales

Ballast Water- Large oceanic vessels take water in ballast to help with balance; organisms are taken in at one port and released at another

Bait Release- Bait is released into a new body of water after fishing

Intentional Introduction- a species is released into an ecosystem on purpose

Canals- Organisms move from one waterbody to another via canal systems

Characteristics of a Typical Invasive Species

Invasive species possess several characteristics that allow them to survive and flourish in new ecosystems. Invasive species tend to be generalists, meaning that they will make use of different resources. Most invasives can tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions and are able to survive in various habitats. Specialist species can only live in a small range of environmental conditions and/or they depend on specific habitat or food resources.

Invasive species also tend to reproduce rapidly and disperse with ease (examples are laying thousands of eggs, or dispersing seeds in the wind). When invasives are introduced to an area, they frequently have no natural predators or parasites. This allows for growth at a fast rate, and in most cases, native species are lost or replaced by non-native species.

Impacts

One of the greatest impacts invasive species can have on an environment is loss of biodiversity. Invasive species represent the second leading cause of species extinction and loss of biodiversity in aquatic environments worldwide. A good example is the round goby in the Great Lakes. This small, bottom dwelling freshwater fish has out-competed native fish such as darters and sculpins. Due to their aggressive nature, this fish can take over ideal habitat and eat other fish's eggs and young. Substantial reductions in local populations of sculpins already have been reported from areas in which gobies have become established.

Another impact is cost. Invasive species can bring about large economic costs to introduced areas. For example, the zebra mussel, originally from the Caspian Sea region of Asia, clogs waterways and irrigation systems which have cost the Great Lakes area billions of dollars in clean up efforts. In fact, since 1989, some facilities located on Lake Erie have reported big reductions in pumping capacity and occasional shutdowns caused by encrusted zebra mussels.

Prevention

To prevent the introduction or spread of invasive species, a few simple steps can be taken:

  • Learn to identify common exotic species
  • Tell others about the possible harm of invasive species
  • If you think you've found an invasive species, contact your local NYS DEC office
  • Do not release unwanted plants or animals into the wild unless they came from that body of water
  • Do not release unused bait
  • Remove any plants, animals or mud before transporting equipment
  • Eliminate water from all equipment before transporting to prevent small larval forms of aquatic invaders from spreading
  • Wash/rinse and dry anything that came in contact with the water

Main Activity

Introduction

  1. Introduce yourself and the day's activities:
    1. Presentation about invasive species
    2. Invasive Investigators Game

Invasive Presentation

  • Define invasive species. Exotic and invasive species are most common.
  • Define Vectors; have students brainstorm how invasive species are introduced into the environment. Review each vector (intentional introduction, canals, hitchhikers, bait release, ballast water, aquarium trade).
  • Discuss the impacts of invasive species:
    • Economic: removal/repair projects can cost thousands to millions of dollars
    • Biological: loss of biodiversity, out-competes native species
  • Give a few examples and show pictures of local invasives, some suggestions include:
    • Round Goby (Neogobius melanostomus):
      • Native to Black and Caspian Sea areas of Eastern Europe
      • Present in the Great Lakes
      • Spread by ballast water and worked its way through canals and waterways
      • Very aggressive fish species, out competes native fish for food and shelter
    • Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria):
      • Native to Europe
      • Presently distributed across most of the U.S. and Canada
      • Spread by intentional introduction (ornamental) and ballast water
      • Out-competes native plants and reduces food and habitat for wildlife
    • Water Primrose (Ludwigia peploides)
      • Native to tropical and subtropical South America
      • Presently in 30 U.S. States (including NY)
      • Intentionally introduced as an ornamental, spreads by fragmentation and hitchhiking
      • Blocks waterways for recreational use, reduces biodiversity and degrades water quality by decreasing pH and dissolved oxygen content

Invasive Investigators of NYS

  • Explain that the object of game is to solve a mystery
    • Do that by asking questions
    • Review game procedures and rules.
      • Option: have the rules up on a projector screen or hand out a copy to each group.
  • Make the comparison between Invasive Investigators and Clue:
Clue Invasive Investigators
Players Invasive Species
Rooms NYS Waterbodies
Weapons Vectors
  • Split up the students into groups of 5-6, with at least one student in each group who has played Clue before, or have one instructor play with each group
  • Distribute board and game pieces

Option 1: The instructor can predetermine the case so that the correct species, location, and vector are in the case file.

Option 2: Students divide the cards into three piles (vector, species, and locations), selecting one card from each pile at random and inserting these chosen cards into the confidential case file without looking.

  • Have kids play game. Circulate among students, offering help where needed.

Wrap up

Option 1: If the case was predetermined, the instructor will ask the students to record the information for each case file. The instructor will ask the students to share:

  • Invasive species name
  • Where found in NYS
  • Vector used to get there

Option 2: If the case was randomly determined, the instructor will ask the students if this scenario is or is not possible (examples, the lionfish is a saltwater fish, cannot survive in a freshwater lake).

Preventing Invasive Species

  • After playing the game, have the students brainstorm ways to prevent the spread of invasive species.
    • Make sure to include the following:
      • Learn to identify common exotic species
      • Tell others about the possible harm of invasive species
      • If you think you've found an invasive species, contact your local NYS DEC office
      • Do not release unwanted plants or animals into the wild unless they came from that body of water
      • Do not release unused bait
      • Remove any plants, animals or mud before transporting equipment
      • Eliminate water from all equipment before transporting to prevent small larval forms of aquatic invaders from being carried from one waterbody to another
      • Wash/rinse and dry anything that came in contact with the water

Relation to Fishing

Aquatic invasive species often affect recreational uses of water (fishing, boating, swimming, etc.). The NYSDEC's Freshwater Fisheries Unit is responsible for managing all of the freshwater resources in a given region, making it difficult to survey each waterbody every year. Anglers can assist the NYSDEC in finding aquatic invasive species by notifying fisheries staff if they find an invasive species. Anglers can also help prevent the spread of invasive species by properly cleaning their boats and fishing gear after every use.

Review

After this presentation:

  • Have the students identify several aquatic invasive species found in NYS
  • Ask the students to discuss the vectors/methods in which invasive species are introduced into an environment
  • Have groups describe a prevention method to stop the spread of invasive species

Questions for Discussion

Q: Name an invasive aquatic plant species found in NYS
A: Answers may vary: Water primrose, Purple Loosestrife, Eurasian Milfoil,
Water Chestnut

Q: Not all non-native species are considered invasive, why not?
A: Not all non-native species cause economic or ecological damage

Q: What can you do to prevent the spread of an invasive species?
A: Answers may vary: do not release unwanted plants or animals into the wild, do not
release unused bait, clean off your fishing/boating equipment after every use

Q: Which vectors are considered accidental? deliberate?
A: Accidental vectors include canals, ballast water, and hitchhikers. Deliberate vectors
include bait release, aquarium trade, and intentional introduction

Q: What are some characteristics of invasive species that allow them to out-compete native
species?
A: Invasive species are usually generalists and rapid reproducers, and when initially introduced to an ecosystem they are without natural predators.

Additional Assessment Suggestions

  • Have students complete the provided Most Wanted posters following this lesson.
  • Have students research a given invasive species and write a brief paper on the history of this species.
  • Have students research the player/species they chose in the game
  • Have students write a brief paper on why their case scenario is or is not possible.

Web Resources

Common Aquatic Invasive Species - NYSDEC provides background information on Eurasian watermilfoil, water chestnut, fanwort, curly leaf pondweed, didymo, round goby, zebra mussel, alewife, white perch.

Nuisance and Invasive Species - NYSDEC webpage with information on invasive and nuisance species

Offsite Web Resources (following links all leave DEC's website)

Introduced, Invasive, and Noxious Plants - USDA NRCS

National Invasive Species Information Center - USDA National Agricultural Library provides a list of aquatic invasive species for each state.

New York Invasive Species - New York Invasive Species Clearinghouse, Cornell Cooperative Extension

Aquatic Invasive Species - Minnesota Sea Grant provides species profiles with pictures for purple loosestrife, Eurasian watermilfoil, round goby, sea lamprey, rusty crayfish, and more.

Biological Criteria - United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides information on biological assessment criteria for lakes, streams, estuaries, wetlands, and coral reefs.