Help wetlands, raise beetles!

By Jenny Seifert, UWEX Aquatic Invasive Species Outreach Specialist

Now is the time to be growing purple loosestrife, an invasive plant, in your backyard.

What, you ask? Why would you tell us to intentionally nurture an invasive species?

Good question. Normally, we shouldn’t be planting or otherwise encouraging invasive species in our gardens, ponds or properties.

But purple loosestrife is an oddball case. Tending just a couple of specimens of this otherwise unwanted wetland invasive can be beneficial if done to help their worst enemy, Cella beetles, grow and flourish.

Cella beetles are our best defense against purple loosestrife. Photo credit: Paul Skawinski

The beetles, formally called Galerucella pusilla and Galerucella calmariensis, have become heroes for wetland lovers, because they are really good at eating purple loosestrife. Their appetites prevent the plants from growing tall and producing seeds, allowing native wetland species to thrive instead.

About two decades ago, the DNR and partners first released the European-native Cella beetles in Wisconsin in an attempt to “stem the purple (loosestrife) tide,” which was consuming so many wetlands that land managers had nearly given up hope that it could be tamed. Now, the beetles are a frontline defense against this wetland-ruining (although, kinda pretty) exotic plant.

Each spring, the beetle army gets a little help from people around Wisconsin, who rear new recruits to be deployed come summer. Each cohort starts small but multiplies quickly – up to 100 times the starting population – before flying off to duty.

You can help raise an army, too! Here’s what the task entails:

  • Order a “starter kit,” containing beetles and cage netting, from the Wisconsin DNR for a $20 donation (it’s free to teachers!) by filling out this application. The DNR will mail the netting to you immediately and the beetles in May.
  • Once the netting arrives, sew it into “cages,” which you will attach to your purple loosestrife planting pots (don’t worry, instructions will be included) to protect the plants and beetles from other critters that might eat them.
  • As soon as the spring thaw hits, dig up a few of the tallest loosestrife plants from your property or, with landowner permission, a nearby infested wetland. Pot and cage them immediately, and place them in your backyard or schoolyard. Here’s how to identify purple loosestrife, if you don’t know what it looks like. (See also the pictures below.)
  • By May, your plants should be two or more feet tall, and it will be beetle time. As soon as you get your beetles, place ten of them in each cage with the plants.
  • In June or July, you will start noticing new adult beetles in the cages, which means it’s time to move the potted plants to a nearby loosestrife-infested wetland, which may or may not be the same one from which you collected them.
  • Remove the cages and release the beetles!
  • Report your release to the DNR, including the location, so we can keep track of your much-appreciated efforts.

If you really want to geek out, you can help the DNR monitor your beetles and their progress by photographing your wetland year to year and filling out this form.

This letter has more details about how to get involved in Cella beetle rearing, or you can contact the state’s purple loosestrife guy, Brock Woods, at brock.woods [at] wisconsin.gov.

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As the ice begins to melt, here are some invasive species to be on the lookout for

By Jenny Seifert, UWEX Aquatic Invasive Species Outreach Specialist

The weird spring tease we got this week – in February – got me thinking about what sorts of aquatic invasive species (AIS) water lovers could be on the lookout for as Wisconsin’s lakes begin to awaken from their icy slumber. So I had a quick chat with one of the state’s AIS gurus, Paul Skawinski, the Citizen Lake Monitoring Network Educator with UW-Extension Lakes and a self-proclaimed “dorky botanist.”

According to Skawinski, a few AIS are active during the winter, meaning they aren’t dead or dormant, but are still photosynthesizing (albeit slowly), eating plankton, and going about their usual ways. People can keep their eyes out for these species while seizing the day with some late-season ice fishing or just wandering about a thawing lakescape.

Eurasian water milfoil and curly leaf pondweed are typically still standing and readily visible under the ice,” says Skawinski, naming two of those hardy few that can tough it out through a Wisconsin winter.

The advantage these two invasive plants have is their tolerance of darkness and cold water. In the summer, they can grow in deep waters, where light and warmth are scarce, which means when ice and snow curtain lakes in the winter, it’s no big deal for them.

Another winter-resistant species is starry stonewort, an invasive alga that is relatively new to Wisconsin. While its green “planty” parts die off in the winter, its star-shaped bulbils, or its namesake reproduction centers, are still detectable, staying cozy in the lake sediment and ready to sprout come spring.

Starry stonewort’s bulbil, or reproduction center, can overwinter in lake sediments. Credit: Paul Skawinski

“These species can grow fast and tall, and quickly shade out other species, making it harder for some native species to grow back in the spring,” says Skawinski of why winter hardiness among invasive flora contributes to their potential dominance in a lake.

One more invasive critter to be on the lookout for as Wisconsin melts is the zebra mussel, that pipe-clogging filter feeder that can smother native mussels, promote algal growth and generally get all over everything.

A stubborn zebra mussel clings to an aquatic plant, even during winter’s deep freeze. Credit: Paul Skawinski

“I was out on a lake last weekend and pulled Eurasian water milfoil through the ice with several zebra mussels attached,” says Skawinski of a trip he made with some citizen lake monitors to Cedar Lake. For the past four or five years, he has done wintertime explorations around the state to see what he can find lurking under the ice.

So what should you do if find any of these or other invasive flora or fauna as winter turns to spring?

“Contact someone,” says Skawinski.

Specifically, you can choose among your regional AIS Coordinator at the DNR, your regional Tribal or County Coordinator or your regional Citizen Lake Monitoring Network Coordinator. Be sure to tell them what species you found, how much of it you saw, when you found it and whether you have a sample you could send them. This information helps them keep track of invasive populations and recommend appropriate management actions.

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Make Inspect, Remove, Drain, Never Move your 2017 intention, and some science behind that

Post by Jenny Seifert, AIS Outreach Specialist, UW-Extension

As you recover from the holiday revelry and look ahead into the New Year, full of optimistic resolve to make your life better, we suggest you add a certain intention to your 2017 game plan. You guessed it: when using Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers and wetlands, always Inspect, Remove, Drain, and Never Move to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

I know aquatic summer fun may be far from your mind right now, as you pile on the layers to protect yourself from the icy wrath of the latest polar vortex. But there’s no time like the present to set your intentions, and here’s why.

Behavioral intentions play a key role in behavior change, according to the Theory of Planned Behavior, an important theory we apply often to our AIS prevention campaigns.

Intentions are indications that you are ready to act and the immediate determinants of a behavior. Without the intention, the behavior won’t happen, so the theory goes.

Underlying our intentions are three factors: our attitude toward the behavior, perceived social norms, and our perceived ability to perform the behavior. Let’s break this down further.

Starting with attitudes, these are our feelings about a behavior – is it and its outcomes good or bad (favorable or unfavorable)? If I believe aquatic invasive species are bad and preventing them is good, I am likely to think it is good for me to try to stop them. So my attitude toward Inspect, Remove, Drain, Never Move is favorable.

Our attitudes about a behavior interact with what we think other people – particularly, people whose opinions we care about – expect of us, which includes what they think about the behavior in question and what they do themselves. This factor is called subjective norms.

In other words, if I think my friends, family and fellow boaters expect me to Inspect, Remove, Drain, and Never Move, then I am more likely to cave to that social pressure.

Finally, our attitudes and subjective norms also interact with our sense of self-efficacy, or our perceived behavioral control. If I believe I am capable of Inspecting, Removing, Draining and Never Moving and there is nothing preventing me from doing so, then my intent to act is stronger.

All three of these factors combined predict our intentions, which in turn predict our behaviors.

If you need a visual to pull all of this together, here is what the theory looks like:

Source: Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, p. 179-211.

Of course, real-life behavior is not always as neat and tidy as a conceptual model. Our behaviors are often a mess of factors that we can’t always explain. But behavior theories do a good job of making some sense of why people do what they do and how we might change our ways for the better. (Side note: An interesting exercise is to try to dissect why you do a certain behavior – at least I geek out on that sometimes.)

Now that we understand how setting an intention to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species can help us actually do it, we’d love to hear how you intend to stop aquatic hitchhikers this year. Send us a comment below and/or tag @WisconsinAIS in a Tweet – we’ll share or retweet our favorites.

Happy 2017!

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Bait shop owners can play a leading role in aquatic invasive species prevention, and here’s why

By Jenny Seifert, UWEX Outreach Specialist

Changing behavior is a fascinating but complicated endeavor. So many factors influence our actions, whether or not we are conscious of them, and many a social scientist – from economists to psychologists – has spent her or his career teasing out what does, or doesn’t, nudge people to adopt new habits.

As a goal inherently dependent on behavior change, preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) requires an approach based in the myriad theories these scientists have developed. To understand what such theory looks like in practice, look no further than your local bait shop.

Bait shops are information hubs, and their owners can be too.

Bait shops are obligatory hubs for anglers. Not only do they supply essential fishing gear, they are also epicenters for information that anglers pay attention to, like tips on what’s biting. Perhaps because of this, bait shop owners play an important role in the angling community: that of opinion leaders.

Communication research has shown that opinion leaders can be potentially powerful messengers who can influence people’s attitudes and behaviors – more so, in fact, than traditional media can. These individuals may not be in official leadership roles, but they are who other people look to for information on the right thing to think or do.

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