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The Impact Of Invasive Species On Ecosystems

3082 words - 12 pages

            Influence on ecosystems range from human causes like the bulldozing of a forest to natural causes like a fire or a flood.  In recent times, the introduction and spread of invasive species has transformed native communities rapidly and, in some cases, created irreversible damages.  In the Earth’s history, changes have often occurred in the ecosystems.  For example, glaciers and the retreat of glaciers cause wide-spread changes.  However, although change is a constant in ecosystems, animals and habitats often cannot adapt to the rapid alterations of non-natural stresses.  Harm to the environment from the introduction of invasive species occurs through changes in the habitat and declines in the native species.  Invasive species can make changes in a habitat’s physical structure, hydrology and salinity, productivity, energy flow, and fire cycle.  Declines in biodiversity occur through competition, disruption of the food web, and genetic hybridization.  These habitat and species modifications could create an irreversible shift in the ecosystem, creating an altered, stable state. 

While invasive species cause damage in many ways, one of an invasive specie’s most devastating effects is habitat modification.  Once a habitat is physically altered, even if the invader is removed, it becomes difficult or impossible to reverse the effects.  In Life Out of Bounds, author Chris Bright describes the cycle of degradation (1998).  As local creatures disappear, the loss weakens the strength of their ecosystem.  An artificially simplified community is more likely to break down and the effects of disturbances, such as fire or flood, are likely to be more intense, leaving the area open to more invasions.  According to Bright, as more and more habitat is burned or bulldozed away, the remnant natural areas grow ever more vulnerable to invasion (1998).  According to Van Driesche, nonnative species are more likely to establish if they invade habitats with lowered biotic resistance, encounter prey with poorly developed mechanisms of self-defense, or invade habitats unaccompanied by their specialized natural enemies or when their invasion is facilitated by earlier invaders (2000).  Damage to these communities, then, can be seen both in cumulative effects and in a cycle of self-reinforcement.  Although pristine environments are still at risk from invasion, this positive feedback loop makes habitats already with a disturbance by exotics even more vulnerable to other invasions. 

With the increasing amount of disturbed habitats, invasive species could soon become the leading cause of ecological degradation (Soulé & Orians, 2001).  Invasive species can alter habitats in a number of ways.  Changes in the physical structure of the land are the most visually obvious.  Examples include narrowing stream channels, reducing sand supply to dunes, and stabilizing surfaces such as mudflats, and each invasive species goes about these changes in their...

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