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Community scientists contribute to invasive species research projects

In 2021 University of Minnesota Extension asked volunteers to help address several environmental challenges surrounding invasive species. In total,184 volunteers answered the call and helped us move research forward on these issues. Find all project information and reports on the citizen science project site.

Project 1: Find and report

This project asked volunteers to look for non-native Siberian peashrub, Japanese tree lilac, black alder, and porcelain-berry plants that had escaped cultivation. Findings were recorded in EDDMapS (a web-based mapping system) with the goal of improving known distribution and density of these species. The data will ultimately be used to inform Minnesota Noxious Weed Committee decisions about these plants.

During the project period, a total of 33 new verified invasive plants were reported though no obvious range expansions were detected for any of these species. Concerningly, 7 of 13 Japanese lilac tree reports indicated large numbers of Japanese lilac trees. This may mean Japanese tree lilacs could become a serious invasive species.

Project 2: Mysterious mulberry

Red mulberry (Morus rubra) may be the rarest tree in Minnesota. Red mulberry's native range is thought to include southeastern Minnesota, the same part of the state that's getting warmer and wetter and thus more like areas further south and east that have more red mulberries. So where are Minnesota's red mulberries and why aren't they thriving? Could non-native white mulberry (Morus alba) be outcompeting or hybridizing with red mulberry?

The project was launched to better understand the current state of native red mulberry and non-native white mulberry by having volunteers find, identify and report the trees in iNaturalist.

During the project, a total of 181 new mulberry observations were recorded in iNaturalist effectively tripling the total number of observations in Minnesota. The intent of the project was to record population and range trends and inform future research by providing more thorough baseline data.

It’s likely that non-native white mulberries and hybrids now outnumber native red mulberries by about 1:52. This is not good news for native red mulberry. However, this project has prompted a larger national conversation and renewed interest in working on red mulberry.

The project’s final report outlines the challenges in data collection and understanding and highlights likely trends in red and white mulberry trees in Minnesota.

Project 3: Jumping worms

Jumping worms (Amynthas spp.) are an invasive species contributing to major forest ecosystem disturbance and are causing trouble for homeowners and gardeners. They negatively impact soil structure and reduce plant growth. Currently, there are no research-based management options for jumping worms. Our project uses iterative community science to look for possible jumping worm management approaches. 

Almost all volunteers reported a reduction in jumping worms, showing that management can reduce jumping worm numbers and reduce negative impacts. Be sure to read the report for information about the cultural, mechanical, biological, soil amendments and chemical management that worked and those that didn’t.

This project also sought to better understand and manage the emotions caused by jumping worms. Volunteer survey data show that jumping worms caused sadness, fear, panic, impatience, anger and negative thoughts in respondents. Even when jumping worm management costs money and takes time, respondents reported a sharp increase in efforts to manage these invasive pests.

The jumping worms project will likely conclude at the end of 2022 but offers hope and management opportunities for landowners with jumping worms. One product is being tested in a public garden this summer to see if it continues to offer promise. DNA testing on soil samples is underway from yards with jumping worms, yards without jumping worms, and prairies (a biome that has so far not had any reports of jumping worm infestations) in the hopes it will shed light on jumping worm habitat and management priorities.

Thank you to all the volunteers that responded to the call and helped broaden our understanding of these early detection invasive species.

Author: Angela Gupta, Extension educator

Permission is granted to news media to republish our news articles with credit to University of Minnesota Extension. Images also may be republished; please check for specific photographer credits or limited use restrictions in the photo title.

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