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Release Date: 10/11/2001
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Note to Correspondents


Luke C. Hester 202-564-7818 /

Research grants totaling more than $3.5 million have been awarded to seven universities and one nonprofit agency to study invasive species in the United States. Invasive species, such as the zebra mussel and the tamarisk tree, constitute irreversible environmental changes in ecosystems and have displaced many native plants and animals, causing one of the largest significant economic and natural resource losses

The research will address issues related to plants and animals introduced into the United States and will help minimize and understand these losses. The grants were made through EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program which funds research grants and graduate fellowships in numerous environmental science and engineering disciplines through a competitive solicitation process and independent peer review. The grant awards and the focus of the research projects are:

Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., “Impact of Invasive Plants on Abundance and Fitness of Salamanders.” The objective is to determine whether the abundance of red-backed salamanders in northeastern forests has been affected by the appearance of several invasive plants. Also, the researchers plan to assess whether amphibians, and particularly salamanders, can function as “bio-indicators” for plant invasions.

University of California, Davis, Calif., “Hybridization Between an Invasive Exotic and a Declining Native Amphibian: Molecular Characterization, Ecological Dynamics, and Genetic Remediation.” The goal of this research is to characterize the interactions between an introduced exotic salamander (the tiger salamander Ambystoma tigrinum) and a native, declining, endemic species (A. californiense) in the central California landscape. Results of the research will provide insight into the conditions most favorable for successful remediation of the problem and assessment of a method to remove the introduced genes from the area.

University of California, Riverside, Calif., “Abiotic Controls on Invasive Species and Biodiversity: Comparison of Forest and Shrubland.” The goal is to determine why different ecosystems in southern California respond in different ways to increases in atmospheric nitrogen deposition. Atmospheric nitrogen deposition rates in southern California, an area with numerous threatened and endangered species, are among the highest in North America.

University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., “Biopollution by the Green Mussel, Perna viridid, in the Southeast United States.” The project will assess the potential for the future dispersal of a new biological pollutant, the green mussel Perna viridis, within and from Tampa Bay. The researchers will also assess and predict the environmental impacts of non-indigenous mussels on biological communities, native species and phytoplankton.

University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ind., “Predicting the identity, spread, and impact of future non-indigenous species in the Great Lakes.” Researchers will develop approaches for predicting the identity and environmental impact of future invasive or non-indigenous species in the Laurentian Great Lakes, especially those brought by ships.

Rice University, Houston, Texas, “Chinese Tallow Invasions into the Endangered Coastal Prairie: Causes and Consequences.” Chinese Tallow Tree (Sapium sebiferum) is a major invasive species in the southeastern US that aggressively replaces native plants. The research focuses on understanding how factors such as fire, soil fertility, flooding, and herbivores influence the Tallow Tree invasion in east Texas.

State University of New York- Stony Brook, Stony Brook, N.Y., "An Experimental Study of Biological Invasions in Forests of the Eastern United States." This project will focus on teasing out the factors that limit the spread of invasive plants. The research will be used to assess the effects of mass and nutrient loss in forested ecosystems in order to measure the impact of invasions, determine the threats posed by different invasive taxa, and come up with strategies to mitigate these threats.

Interdisciplinary Solutions for Environmental Sustainability, Inc.; Oak Ridge, Tenn., “Predicting the Distribution and Dominance of Exotic Species across Landscapes of Southern Appalachia.” This project will develop a method to predict where exotic or invasive species will move across and dominate a landscape, and determine how long it will take for the species to be a problem in a given area. The effort will focus on the Big South Fork National Recreation Area, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Oak Ridge National Environmental Research Park.

One example, the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) is a small, non-native mussel originally found in Russia. In 1988, this animal was transported to North America in the ballast water of a transatlantic freighter. In less than ten years, zebra mussels spread to all five Great Lakes and into the Mississippi, Tennessee, Hudson, and Ohio River Basins. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the potential economic impact at $5 billion over the next ten years to U.S. and Canadian water users within the Great Lakes region alone.

The second example, Tamarisk (Tamarix spp.), originally introduced by western settlers in the 1800s as a source of wood, shade, and erosion control, now infests approximately one million acres in the United States. In the arid Southwest, where water is essential to the economy and ecology, the alien tamarisk tree consumes five million acre-feet of water a year.

For more information, contact Estella Waldman at (202-564-6836) or go to:

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