Native and Invasive Aquatic Plant "Virtual Herbarium"
Web Site: Virtual Herbarium of Aquatic Plants
Extensive work is being done at the state and local level to prevent the spread of invasive aquatic plants into Maine’s lakes, ponds and streams. While prevention of the spread of these organisms is the highest priority, the early detection of invaders offers the best hope for eradication, or successful management of an infestation. During the past three years, the VLMP has trained several hundred volunteers and agency personnel throughout Maine to identify aquatic invaders and to conduct screening surveys of lakes and ponds. The “Virtual Herbarium” will serve as an online tool for trained volunteers, students, agency personnel and the general public. The Herbarium will consist of photos, line drawings, and scanned images for eleven target invasive species, as defined under Maine law, as well as for native plants that are often mistaken for invaders and others that will likely be encountered during the survey process. The photos will include plants in situ, close-up shots, and micrographs of structures that are key to definitive identification. Factual information will be provided for each of the featured plants, including: species description, similar species, origin and range, habitat and yearly growth cycle, value in aquatic communities (native species) and case studies of infestations and management strategies (invasive species). The site will also include links to survey maps and data collected by State agencies and volunteers. A dichotomous key will be provided to allow users to rule-out target species. The web site will link to PEARL, the on-line database for Maine lakes, providing additional value-added information for the data and educational activities of PEARL (http://pearl.maine.edu). PEARL is a collaborative of the UMaine Mitchell Center, VLMP and Maine DEP.
Statement of critical regional or state water problem:
The introduction of non-indigenous invasive plant and animal species to the United States has been escalating with widespread destructive consequences. Until now Maine has been spared the worst introductions, but we would be remiss to assume that this situation will continue indefinitely. Significant habitat disruption, loss of native plant and animal communities, loss of property values, reduced fishing and water recreation opportunities and large public/private expenditures have accompanied invasive plant introductions in all of the lower 48 states except Maine.
Though Maine is a relative latecomer to the national invasive aquatics scene, as awareness of this new threat to Maine waters has emerged across the state, Mainers have taken swift and decisive action. In 2000, the State of Maine passed legislation that outlaws the sale, propagation, or introduction to Maine waters eleven invasive aquatic plants. (Currently, two of these plants are known to be established in Maine waters: variable-leaf milfoil, in sixteen water bodies; and hydrilla, in one small pond.) In 2001 further legislation was enacted, instituting more sweeping authorities, programs and planning requirements relating to invasive plants and other nuisance species. The law put in place some key components for an effective invasive aquatic species program for inland waters including: a boat sticker program to raise funds and public awareness for prevention, detection, and control of invasive species; an inspection and education program; and an emergency authority to regulate surface use in plant infested waters. The law also established an Interagency Task Force on Invasive Aquatic Plants and Nuisance Species comprised of state agency personnel and private citizens representing a wide array of stakeholders. One of the first tasks of the Task Force was the development of the State of Maine Action Plan for Managing Invasive Aquatic Species, a document created to provide guidance for the State’s management of invasive aquatic species for the subsequent four-year period.
One of the five main objectives of Maine’s Action Plan includes the development of a practical and effective statewide “early detection” system. And one of the key action steps listed for meeting this objective is the continuance of the VLMP’s Invasive Plant Patrol training. “The Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program will continue to train volunteers [and agency personnel] to identify freshwater plants and conduct invasive aquatic plant screening surveys on lakes and ponds.”
One of the major players in bringing this issue to the public’s attention, the VLMP has continued to provide leadership through the recent establishment of the Maine Center for Invasive Aquatic Plants (MCIAP). Through the Center, the VLMP has developed a comprehensive hands-on workshop series and field guide to aid Plant Patrollers with identification of the eleven target invasive aquatic plants and conducting screening surveys. With support from the MDEP and the boat sticker program, the VLMP/MCIAP has trained more than 850 volunteers to date, and has implemented what has come to be considered one of New England’s most comprehensive and successful citizen-based plant patrol programs. Public feedback on both the training program and the guide has been excellent. However many patrollers, especially those who are new to plant identification, have expressed the need for additional visual and descriptive resources, to provide further aid in identifying and understanding the target invaders and also in identifying the native plants most frequently encountered during the screening survey process. Our vision for the development of the on-line “Virtual Herbarium” has taken form in direct response to the specific needs and suggestions of Maine’s citizen volunteers, agency collaborators, teachers, students and others.
Statement of Results and Benefits:
The primary and most beneficial expected outcome of this project is the early detection of new invasive aquatic plant infestations. Certainly preventing infestations through education, public awareness campaigns and courtesy boat inspection programs is the best and foremost defense against the spread of invasive organisms. But lessons learned from other states also make it clear that no defense can be 100% effective, a fact that is even more certain in a state with over 5000 lakes and thousands of miles of streams and rivers. In time, invaders will most certainly slip though the cracks. Our second line of defense: an active, effective and widespread early detection system is ultimately just as critical to the future of Maine’s lakes as prevention efforts.
With the vast amount of potential invasive aquatic plant habitat in the State, and with the limited amount of funds available to screen all waterbodies for the presence of these invaders, volunteers will play an essential role in the statewide early detection program. One excellent example of an effective volunteer-based monitoring effort is very near at hand! Volunteer lake water quality monitors, trained and organized by the VLMP for over thirty years, have provided enormous benefits to the State in the form of high-quality lake data. The contribution made by qualified volunteers to the better understanding and protection of Maine’s water resources is beyond measure.
Building upon the water quality monitor model and adapting it to meet the needs of our current challenge, the VLMP’s Invasive Plant Patrol Program has already begun to produce results. In the three years of the Invasive Patrol Program, 850 volunteers and agency personnel have been trained. The data is still coming in from the 2003 survey season, but in 2002, the first year that official records of volunteer survey efforts were kept, nineteen Maine waterbodies had been formally surveyed by volunteers and twelve others were surveyed at a less comprehensive level. The reports generated by these volunteers, some working alone, others working in survey teams, are extremely impressive. Creating a web-based, Maine-specific, aquatic plant information resource will go a long way in helping to ensure the future viability of this promising effort. The cost benefits of this project will greatly exceed the total budget if only a single Maine waterbody is protected through the encouragement and support of citizen-based efforts.
The feedback we have received from the Patrollers points to a second, extremely valuable result of this project. Through training and educational outreach, Plant Patrollers are not only becoming more aware of the threat of invasive plant species, they are gaining a greater appreciation for, and interest in, Maine’s native plant communities. The Virtual Herbarium will feature many common native Maine plants and will enhance and support this growing interest. The project also represents an outstanding collaborative opportunity, through which many stakeholders will come together to produce a product that will have universal benefits. Once established, this initiative will be in a good position to attract further funding for the purposes of maintenance and improvement.