Mitigating the Impacts of Invasive Species in Texas

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Invasive species cause many negative impacts to the Texas landscape, from the displacement of native trees to potentially wiping out entire species. Because of their widespread impact, Texas A&M Forest Service is taking great lengths to help mitigate their impacts and taking time to highlight those efforts during National Invasive Species Awareness Week.

Invasive species have two main characteristics: they are non-native to an ecosystem and their introduction causes or is likely to cause harm to the economy, environment or human health.

“Invasive species produce a measurable impact,” said Demian Gomez, Texas A&M Forest Service Regional Health Coordinator. “If left unchecked, invasives can threaten native species, biodiversity, ecosystem services, water resources, agricultural and forest production, economies and property values.”

Most often, invasive species have been introduced into an ecosystem through human activity. This can include anything from plants purposefully introduced as ornamentals to insects accidentally transported in imported goods such as through wood packaging materials.

Invasive species succeed because of their ability to grow in favorable environments and their lack of natural predators, competitors and diseases that normally regulate their populations.

Texas A&M Forest Service is mitigating the impacts of invasive species in Texas through several efforts.

Emerald Ash Borer

The emerald ash borer (EAB) is a destructive, invasive borer beetle native to Asia. After being discovered in Michigan in 2002, EAB was first detected in Texas in 2016 in Harrison County. Since then, EAB has been positively confirmed in Bowie, Camp, Cass, Cooke, Dallas, Denton, Marion, Morris, Parker, Rusk, Tarrant, Titus and Wise Counties.

EAB is responsible for killing millions of ash trees across much of the country, and each year, Texas A&M Forest Service places traps throughout the state to proactively monitor for the spread of the pest.

“The agency began monitoring for the pest in 2012 by strategically deploying detection traps each spring,” said Gomez. “We continue to set traps and monitor because early detection of the beetle is the best way to limit the spread and avoid high ash mortality.”

Texas A&M Forest Service works with communities to develop, communicate, and implement local EAB preparedness plans. And while the agency assists with planning, trapping, and monitoring, the Texas Department of Agriculture is ultimately responsible for EAB management and coordination in Texas.

Oak Wilt

Oak wilt is one of the deadliest tree diseases in the United States. Since its first detection in Texas in 1961, it has killed millions of trees across 76 counties.  

Oak wilt is caused by the fungus Bretziella fagacearum, thought to have originated in Central America. The fungus invades and disables the water-conducting system in oaks.

Any new wound on oaks can be an entry point for infection. Very active in late and early spring, small native sap beetles transfer spores of the oak wilt fungus, infecting new trees. Additionally, the pathogen can spread through interconnected roots, particularly impacting live oaks in Central Texas.

“Texas A&M Forest Service works with public and private partners to minimize the spread of the fungus across the state through the Oak Wilt Suppression Project,” said Gomez. “We help by providing public education and awareness, identifying and mapping mortality centers, and providing treatment recommendations and cost-shares.”

Brazilian Peppertree

The Brazilian pepper tree was first introduced to Texas in the 1950s and has since invaded thousands of acres in coastal habitats, shading and killing native vegetation and even causing allergic reactions in some people.

Since 2014, Texas A&M Forest Service has worked with the Texas Gulf Region Cooperative Weed Management Area in Port Aransas to address Brazilian peppertree in the region through eradication and education.

Since 2023, the agency has also been collaborating on a project to reduce the impacts of the invasive Brazilian peppertree in the Texas Gulf Coast with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, the University of Texas Marine Science Institute and the City of Port Aransas, studying biological control options.

As part of this study, a small thrips insect, known as the Brazilian Peppertree thrip, was released on plots to study their control of the invasive plant. The study aims to integrate the insect, referred to as a biocontrol, with ongoing mechanical and herbicide management of the Brazilian Peppertree.

Researchers will release new insects and monitor the trees over two years to evaluate the impacts. The U.S. Forest Service provided funding for the project.

Laurel Wilt and the Red Bay Ambrosia Beetle

The red bay ambrosia beetle, responsible for spreading laurel wilt, has killed more than half a billion trees in the Lauraceae family, with high impacts on red bays, sassafras, and the avocado industry in the southeastern U.S.

“This vascular fungal pathogen, transported and cultivated by the beetle to be used as a food source for larvae, can kill trees in less than a month,” said Gomez. “It was first reported in Texas in 2015 and since then, has spread across eastern Texas.”

Texas A&M Forest Service is working with public and private partners to study the spread and distribution of the disease/insect complex.

Early Detection and Rapid Response

Early detection, rapid assessment, and rapid response (EDRR) provide the greatest opportunity for eradication and cost-effective management of invasive species. The EDRR program, a network of traps targeting exotic bark and ambrosia beetles, increases the likelihood that invasive species will be found, contained, and eradicated before they become widely established.

In collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, Texas A&M Forest Service deploys 48 traps annually for the program. These traps are located near areas where potentially invasive and problematic bark and ambrosia beetle species may become established or begin satellite infestations such as wood processing mills, ports, and commercial distribution centers.

It is important to monitor your property for invasive species and take steps to control them when possible. To learn more about invasive species, visit https://tfs.tamu.edu/InvasiveSpecies/.

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