September 23, 2016
Invasive Species Management
Posted by: Ecological Management
Non-native invasive species (invasives) have been identified as one of the greatest threats to habitat and wildlife conservation in the United States. They are a threat to LSSI’s ecosystems, in spite of the relatively undisturbed landscapes found here. A non-native invasive species is an exotic species that causes damage to native plants and animals. The ecological management team and other island staff actively manage and remove invasives in order to protect the island’s biodiversity and keep the natural habitats as healthy as possible.
Feral pigs (Sus scrofa) cause havoc across the southeast, and the coastal islands are particularly known for sustaining large populations of hogs. These animals compete with native species for food resources, predate ground-nesting bird nests, and root and wallow into the ground which can negatively alter water infiltration and help spread invasive plants. We are fortunate not to have an established population on most of LSSI. We actively look for signs of feral pigs, such as tracks and wallows, and monitor for their presence through trail cameras. We work to remove any feral pigs that are sighted. In the past, we have partnered with USDA Wildlife Services to remove feral pigs on the extreme northwest corner of LSSI in the area known as five pound.
Another invasive mammal on LSSI is the European Fallow Deer (Dama dama). Originally native to Eastern Europe and the Middle East, this species was introduced for hunting on LSSI in 1909. Fallow deer foraging habits are different from native white-tailed deer as they are considered more grazers than browsers, so they get nutrition by consuming a broader array of plant species than white-tails.
The maritime forest understory has suffered greatly from fallow deer forage, and as a result, there has been very little Southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) regeneration. In recent years, LSSI’s fallow deer have swam off of LSSI and have made their way to neighboring islands. If allowed to become established at these other locations, the damage could spread to those areas. The herd is actively being reduced in order to minimize ecological damage to the island’s maritime forests and other habitats.
Red Imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) are another invasive pest found on LSSI. Originally from South America, fire ants were accidentally brought in through a port in Louisiana, and have spread throughout much of the southern United States. When crossing a body of water, some ants in the colony will commit suicide and act as a raft for the rest of the ants to safely cross. The bite of a red imported fire ant is very painful, and usually there are many ants attacking at the same time. These ants are known to envenomate sea turtle eggs in a nest, and attack and kill hatchlings as they emerge from the nest to travel to the ocean. On LSSI, we actively look for fire ants around sea turtle nests, and treat fire ant colonies near nests before the nests are scheduled to hatch.
Several invasive plant species can occasionally establish on Little St. Simon Island. Salt cedar (Tamarix aphylla), large-leaf lantana (Lantana camara), Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera), chinaberry (Melia azedarach), and common cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) are a nuisance, and are removed once discovered. These invasive plants are highly aggressive, and could out-compete native vegetation for habitat if allowed to get established. Salt cedar, or tamarisk, can wash up on the shoreline and is a threat to beach-nesting birds breeding habitat. Wilson’s plovers frequently create their nests on the sand around native vegetation, like dune parsley and beach grass. When salt cedar grows in an area it displaces these important natives by releasing salt onto the ground.
At LSSI we work closely with the Coastal Georgia Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA) and Coastal Wildscapes to remove invasive plants before they become established. If you discover or suspect any invasive species during your visit to Little St. Simons Island, please report your sightings to island staff.