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Tracking Invasive Species? There's An App For That

Kalamazoo Nature Center Stewardship Field Director Ryan Koziatek uses the app to make a report on an invasive tree
Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

Michigan State University research specialist Amos Ziegler developed the appthrough a project he created six years ago—the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network. It’s a website where professionals and citizen scientists can share information about invasive plants and animals. 

Ziegler says when it comes to invasives, hindsight is 20/20.

“Say if it were Emerald Ash Borer ten years ago - if we were able to find an early instance of that, that would have been very big. I mean it would have saved a lot of trees. It would have saved an incredible amount of money. And you know an effort to battle a problem that quite honestly was lost ten years prior to that. You know those types of things tend to establish. We don’t detect them until populations rise to a level where we can see them and then with certain species, unfortunately that’s too late.”

There’s about 300 species of plants and animals to choose from on Ziegler’s app, and he’s adding new ones all the time. There are even aquatic species like the infamous Asian carp—or as it’s listed in the app, “Bighead carp.”

Ryan Koziatek manages the 1,200 acres of land owned by the Kalamazoo Nature Center. 

“We typically find a lot of those new invasive plants right along a trail,” he says.

An Oriental bittersweet vine strangles a tree at the Kalamazoo Nature Center
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK
An Oriental bittersweet vine strangles a tree at the Kalamazoo Nature Center

That's because invasive species are mostly spread by humans.

Along the Ridge Run Trail at KNC, Koziatek points out the invasive vine Oriental bittersweet. It has simple rounded leaves that turn yellow in the fall. Bittersweet covers trees, preventing them from getting sunlight. This particular tree looks like it's being choked by the vine. 

On the app, you can take a photo of the invasive, report its presence or absence in an area, see a map where other people have reported that species, look up facts about it, and save it in your favorites.

That info then goes to agencies like the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Forest Service.

Amos Ziegler says his team isn’t as concerned about species like Oriental bittersweet. It’s already taken over the state. They want to stop species that haven’t yet made their way to Michigan, like the Asian longhorn beetle.

“There are established populations in Ohio, lower Ohio. There was an established population that people might have been familiar with in the Midwest and Chicago some years ago, and that’s been eradicated. So it has been close. It’s been in the Toronto area, suburbs of Toronto. So we are and have been kind of surrounded,” says Ziegler.

Ziegler says regular people like you and me are vital in the fight against invasive species. After all, these species are where we are—in our parks, campgrounds, and back yards.

“Most of the problem of invasives unfortunately involves us—it involves humans. We either bring them in or we move them around. They don’t usually show up out in the middle of a forest without some help," he says. "So engaging citizens in the early detection of invasive species seemed to be a popular way to go.”

The invasive species app is free. You can download it here.

Correction: The original story said Ziegler was part of the Michigan Invasive Species Information Network. It's actually the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network.