Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Exotic Species Education and Outreach

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Exotic, invasive species are major ecological and economic threats to the natural and agricultural ecosystems of Illinois, the nation, and the world. For example, nearly 1,500 trees have been lost to the Asian long-horned beetle in the Chicago area, garlic mustard is choking out woodland wildflowers throughout the state, zebra mussels are wreaking havoc in the Great Lakes, and the impact of the recently detected soybean aphid is yet to be determined. While INHS scientists are involved in both basic and applied studies to assess the ever-increasing threat of such exotic invaders, an equally important component of this ongoing battle is public information and education. In the case of the Asian longhorned beetle in Chicago, intense media coverage and public awareness campaigns undoubtedly helped the public to identify additional infestations outside of the original quarantine areas and to better understand that tree removal, no matter how distasteful, provided the best opportunity to limit the establishment and spread of this pest.

The Office of Outreach and Education of the Illinois Natural History Survey has a wide variety of educational materials and programs available to the citizens of Illinois and it has also developed several educational activities that target elementary, middle school, and high school teachers and students. Exotic species educational and outreach efforts are an integral part of these programs.

Calendar

The full-color 2001 wall calendar "Exotic, Invasive Species of Illinois" is aimed at raising awareness of the overall problem of exotic species and acquainting citizens with a few of the more serious invaders of the Illinois landscape. Each month of the calendar features a photograph and description of a problem invader and important dates concerning exotic species. Nearly 3,000 copies of this calendar have been distributed to local, state, and federal agencies and to middle school and high school science teachers.

Posters

The gypsy moth continues to threaten trees in northeastern Illinois, resulting in a quarantine of Lake County in August 2000. Because of the potential for inadvertent movement of gypsy moth egg masses by the public from infested to noninfested areas, a poster was developed to alert the public to check vehicles and outdoor articles if they have recently visited regions of known infestations. With the cooperation of the Illinois Departments of Agriculture and Transportation, these posters have been placed in visitor centers, rest areas, and other facilities frequented by the traveling public.

Fact Sheets and Displays

One-page Insect Info fact sheets have been developed for several other species, including the Asian longhorned beetle and Asian tiger mosquito. A more detailed, multi-panel photo and text display chronicles the entire Asian longhorned beetle saga, from the situation in China and its route of infestation to its current distribution and damage and the eradication efforts in Chicago. This has provided important background information during large-audience presentations but is also appropriate as a stand-alone display for use in nature centers or other public facilities. Nearly a dozen are on display in a variety of city, state, and federal offices in the Chicago metropolitan area and at O'Hare International Airport.

Workshops

Purple loosestrife is an invasive European weed that thrives in wetlands and is particularly abundant in the northern third of Illinois. This exotic weed has provided an ideal educational opportunity to inform the public not only of its threat to the biodivers-ity of the region but also of a partnership program among INHS researchers, land managers, administrators, and scientists from a variety of organizations. Through this program, teachers and students are now involved in efforts to lessen the impact of loosestrife on Illinois wetlands. In 1998, curricular materials on biodiversity, wetlands, and biological control were developed using purple loosestrife as a case study. During all-day workshops, educators and other interested resource persons are trained using written materials, classroom exercises, experiments, slide sets, and videos. Graduates of these sessions also receive kits containing all the materials needed to rear beetles for release as biological control agents against purple loosestrife. To date, over 100 educators have taken the story of purple loosestrife, from invasion to eventual control, to their students. The success of this program makes it very adaptable to similar outreach efforts on other exotic species. Using the loosestrife case study as a template, comparable units will soon be developed emphasizing the impact of exotics and their potential control in other habitats; for instance, gypsy moths and Asian longhorned beetles in woodlands and urban forests.

Public awareness is the key to both the early detection of exotic invaders and the success of programs aimed at controlling their spread. Invasive species will continue to be an unwanted part of our landscape for years to come, but increased awareness and understanding by government administrators and decision makers, resource managers and users, and the public at large may constitute our best chance of managing this complex problem.

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Charles Helm and Michelle Garland, Center for Economic Entomology and Carolyn Nixon and Michael Jeffords, Office of the Chief

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