Agri Leader

Non-native species pose problems

Just like many of us out-of-state transplants, the animal and plant kingdom has it's own set of non-natives; those that did not originate from the state but are here now. With a humid subtropical climate, 2-million acres of Everglades, 1,197 miles of coastline, and over 7,700 lakes that are greater than 10 acres, there are plenty of places for the non-natives to thrive. And thrive they do. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, "Over 500 non-native fish and wildlife species and 1,180 nonnative plant species have been documented in the state." There are two ways for the non-natives to arrive here. One way is to have been brought in by humans, either by escaping or by being released to the wild. Another way is by natural range expansions. The range of non-natives is vast - squirrel monkeys that escaped from tourist attractions, Cuban treefrogs that hitched a ride in cargo and water hyacinths that arrived from South America only to become vast mosquito breeding grounds.
Some non-natives are actually beneficial to the state. Take for example citrus and cattle, both of which were brought to the state by the Spaniards in the early 1500s. Other non-natives don't present a threat to native species and are considered established, such as a red-eared slider turtle. However, some non-natives clearly present worrisome ecological issues, such as Nile monitors that are now living in the Everglades and devouring burrowing owls and crocodile eggs. there's also the African Gambian Pouch rats that are now in the Keys competing for food with endangered species and eating bird eggs. A few of the non-natives making headlines these days are Burmese pythons, lionfish, Bullseye Snakehead fish, and channeled apple snails. "Non-natives may compete with native species for food, shelter or space; they may introduce parasites or diseases, and because they are in a new environment, there may not be the population checks and balances that were present in their native range," said Kelly Gestring, non-native fish and aquatic wildlife coordinator, FWC. The FWC works to control non-native species in many ways. They attempt to eradicate the species, offer special permits for the removal of certain non-native snakes, assist with other agencies to find the best ways to manage and remove non-native species, train volunteers, incorporate certain biological control measures and encourage the consumptive use of non-natives when possible. "Sportfishing for non-native fish species such as Mayan cichlid, oscar and bullseye snakehead increase angler success and enjoyment and lessens their potential impact on native species," Gestring said. To help keep the non-native animal and plants species under control, the best thing Floridians can do is to not release exotic pets and only plant non-invasive plants "Once a non-native species is reproducing in the wild, there is little that can be done to eradicate them," said Gestring. Gestring encouraged pet owners to do their research ito choose the right pet before purchase. "If you have an exotic pet you no longer want or can care for, do not release them," said Gestring. Contact FWC's Pet Amnesty Adoption coordinator at (888) 483-4681 to find a qualified person to adopt your pet. Also, check for other options at: habitats/nonnatives/. The FWC also holds statewide pet amnesty events for pet owners who want to return their non-native pets with no questions asked. To report a non-native animal or one that needs responding to, contact: (888) 483-4681, online at, or via the free IveGot1 app. For more information about managing invasive plants, check with your local extension office for assistance. The cost of managing non-native species in Florida is well into the millions. As an example, since 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in partnership with other organizations, has spent more than $6 million in attempts to find solutions just for Burmese pythons and other large invasive constrictor snakes in Florida. "Prevention is the key to keeping non-native species out of Florida's ecosystems," said Gestring.