Invasive Species with Dr. Charles van Rees

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Dr. Charles van Rees, our Conservation Correspondent, about invasive species.

Science Highlight: None

What makes a species invasive?

  • Generalists
  • Fast-reproducing
  • Behavioral flexibility
  • Lack predators/pressures
  • Harmful to the ecosystem in general

Why do they matter?

  • Conservation implications
  • Economic losses
  • (statistics)

How do they work?

  • Arrival
  • Propagules
  • Establishment
  • Secondary spread

How do people deal with them?

  • EDRR & related surveying
  • Tier system from PRISM
  • Tier 1 – Early Detection/Prevention – Highest level of survey efforts. Should conduct delineation surveys and assign to appropriate Tier if detected. (a) inside buffer but not in PRISM, (b) outside PRISM and buffer, but close (eastern North America), (c) Far outside PRISM and buffer (not in east NA) but introduction pathway exists.
  • Tier 2 – Eradication – Highest level of response efforts. High impact species with low enough abundance to make eradication feasible within the PRISM. Need delineation surveys to determine extent.
  • Tier 3 – Containment – Target strategic management to slow the spread, as likely too widespread for eradication, but many surrounding regions could be at risk if left unattended.
  • Tier 4- Local Control – Eradication from given area not feasible; focus on localized management over time to contain, exclude, or suppress to protect high-priority resources like rare species or recreation assets. Be strategic when deciding if/where to control
  • Tier 5 (Monitor) – Species that need more research, mapping, and monitoring to understand their invasiveness. This includes naturalized species and cultivated-only species that are known to be invasive in other regions but are not yet invasive here

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Why are invasive species bad?

Ted Talk

Where to find Charles: Website | Blog | Instagram | Twitter 

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Transcript (AI-Generated)

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Hello and welcome to the K9Conservationists podcast where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs join us every week to discuss detection, training, dog welfare, conservation, biology and everything in between. I’m Kayla Fratt, one of the cofounders of canine conservationists, where we trained dogs to detect data for land managers, researchers, agencies and NGOs. Today I am rejoined by our conservation correspondent, Dr. Charles Van Rees. Welcome to the podcast, Charles!

Charles Van Rees 

Kayla Fratt. Dog science guru. It’s such a pleasure to be here with you again, and thanks very much for having me on the podcast.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Yeah, well, yeah, we’ve been talking a lot about how we are going to try to actually have you on the show a little bit more often. So I’m excited to be diving back into it. And for those of you who don’t remember Charles, he’s our conservation correspondent. So Charles, do you want to let us know what you’ve been working on lately and just catch people up on who you are in case they’ve forgotten?

Charles Van Rees 

Sure, I can do that. It’s always good to remind myself as well, I think I I’m a conservation scientist, that’s usually the first thing I say when I’m supposed to be kind of branding myself. So I am trained in ecology, biology, animal behavior, various aspects of kind of classical conservation, biology and science. And I work interdisciplinarily to protect ecosystems and species from extinction. That’s kind of my big bag and my specialty in that has more to do with understanding how people’s manipulation of freshwater as a resource affects endangered species and ecosystems that we rely on or find important things like that.

Charles Van Rees 

And then aside from that, I’m a interpretive naturalist. So I really value connecting people to the natural world, and studying kind of the subtleties and idiosyncrasies of the natural world, I think, quite a bit as we haven’t, we haven’t, of course, sat down for a podcast. So whilst a lot of things have been happening, since then, I launched a nature communication blog called glow in nature, which I’ve been having a delightful time with, it’s really been an excellent way to kind of express and share knowledge. And I had a TEDx talk come out in, I think in June is when I went up on YouTube, about kind of how studying the natural world can help people think better and be more innovative and things like that. So I’ve been having a grand and very busy time. But what a treat to be back here with

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

you. Yeah, well, yeah, thank you. And I think people listening to that brief, Charles update. And also knowing, you know, my travels to Kenya, and all of those things would maybe explain why we’ve had a hard time getting our schedules to align. But yeah, so today, we are bringing Charles on to talk about invasive species. So particularly for the dog folks, in our audience, I think this is going to be a really helpful discussion of what invasive species are, why they matter, and then how dogs can fit into this. And if you’re much more on kind of the ecology side, and you feel like you already kind of know, invasive species, hang on anyway, because we are going to be talking quite a bit about how dogs can fit into the picture of mitigating, managing and or eradicating invasive species. So hang on, even if you feel like you know, invasive species. So Charles, why don’t we start out with what is it invasive species.

Charles Van Rees 

And this is very apparent, I wrote a I wrote a blog post on this actually, just several weeks ago. And so it’s pretty, it’s pretty fresh in my mind. And I think it’s just one of those topics that is very intuitive and easy for people who have studied ecology. And when you’re just talking to random folks in the street, it’s like, well, how does this make any sense? Right? So people generally will tell you, if they hear the term invasive species, they know it’s a bad thing. But why is it bad and what does it mean in the first place?

Charles Van Rees 

So at the most basic level, and invasive species is any is a given species or population that has that is for some reason, kind of jumping the boundaries of its sort of normal eco ecological equilibrium, something’s changed. And it is proliferating to such an extent that it is it is damaging to the surrounding ecosystem or to other native species. So it’s, it’s suddenly disrupting an ecosystem in ways that humans find undesirable. A lot of the time, what we’re talking about inherently are what are known as exotic invasive species, which are invasive species from outside of a system that have been brought in. Typically by some some director into like foreign human intervention, and buying by not being sort of a co evolved part of an established ecosystem or ecological equilibrium in some form, they are highly disruptive in that sense. Otherwise, there are native or indigenous, invasive species, which are ones that previously existed in this in some form, and ecosystem, and usually, again, through some direct or indirect human influence, they have changed their sort of role or abundance in that environment, to then be disruptive for harmful and somewhat. So that’s gonna sound very hand wavy enough in the beginning, but of course, we’re gonna be getting into examples and things. So I hope that that will make it a lot more clear.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Yeah, I mean, I think there’s, you know, I don’t think that sounded hand wavy. But yeah, it’s there. It’s a species that is disturbing the ecosystem and taking over and often that means that it’s non native, but not always, are there examples that you can think of off the top of your head of a native species that has also been considered invasive in a given ecosystem? Or? And how does how does that happen?

Charles Van Rees 

So it, it will happen when, when people are doing something to change the environment that might that might vastly favor that species. So again, people could call it could call it invasive. But you know, a lot of these examples that are native ones have not been called invasive, for example, by like policymakers or by agencies who are on the legal side, because they’re working with, you know, pre established definitions that usually involve this thing not being from here, wherever here is.

Charles Van Rees 

The examples that come to mind for me, would be things like the brown headed cowbird, or maybe even something like raccoons in some context. Where we have kind of to use a sci fi term we have sort of Terraformed, right, the perfect habitat for them, we have created the circumstances where they are doing things on a much bigger level, and they’re doing things differently than they did in the, you know, much longer ecological history. We’re looking at what their involvement with native ecosystems. So the brown headed cowbird is that really fascinating burden in the activity or new world Blackbird family that for 1000s, and 1000s, and 1000s, whatever years, they were this this kind of mobile species, the kind of nomadic that would follow large bison herds, which are mind blowing ly enough used to range all over North America, right? We’re talking well into the East Coast, they were, I mean, it’s shocking to think about, but there were bison herds everywhere. And these birds would follow them in their nomadic lifestyle, they actually did not establish their own sort of nests, but but in following these herds around, which, of course, was their source of invertebrate food, they would actually nest parasitize the way that old world cuckoos do they lay their eggs and other species nests. And but that would mean that they’re, you know, they were highly disruptive wherever they showed up, because all these bird species would get their nests messed up. But they would pass through, and then the bison herd would leave whatever, a year later, or two years later, and they’d be gone.

Charles Van Rees 

Right away that we have altered the environment beyond just killing off all the bison has changed permanently, the way that cow birds live, and now they are a really huge, now they will just stay in an area permanently, right. And those impacts that they cause become long term and chronic for migratory bird species that are already threatened by other things. So in a sense, we can consider them invasive in that their, their, you know, their ecological role has changed. And now it’s becoming damaging to important species.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Yeah, well, and I can imagine, you know, I’m thinking of I grew up in way northern Wisconsin, and the white tailed deer population there is super out of control. Because we so successfully eliminated their major predators for so long, and that you know, and then we try to use hunting to manage it, but hunting doesn’t put the same selective pressures on a herd. That’s what wolves would do. And yeah, so I can see. Yeah, that’s, that’s interesting. And I think like most of the invasive species that we think of are small.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

So what are some of the things that would make a species like obviously, I can bring, I don’t know, a rosebush over planted in my garden or like most lilies or whatever, and planted in my garden, no big deal. So like another one that I can remember from my childhood Purple Loosestrife How come If you plant Purple Loosestrife in your garden, that can be such a problem versus again, like, you know, like, you can plant all the daffodils you want, and they’re very unlikely to harm an ecosystem.

Charles Van Rees 

Yeah, so, right, a really, really good point you’re bringing up there. And also, I really liked your deer example. I hadn’t thought of that. That’s, that’s a that’s a great point. So, when we’re talking, especially about No, I guess this can apply across the board. But it certainly applies, in my mind much more directly to species that are being brought in from elsewhere. Not every species is going to be invasive. And I’m sorry to be chock full of bird examples, but to two sparrows in the same genus passar. From the old world were brought over to the US specifically.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Sorry, sorry to interrupt but just for anyone who’s not familiar with old world versus New World, remind us what that means.

Charles Van Rees 

Yeah, I mean, it’s it’s frustratingly, you know, a very colonial origin phrase, but this is referring to new world being the the Americas, North South Central America, continents. Old World being Africa, Asia, Europe. Yep. So these these, these birds are from there. They’re a weaver, I think the weaver family. So they’re Africa and Europe, mainly, there’s probably a bunch species in Asia as well. And they, so two of those birds were brought over to the US in this very, ill advised weird Shakespeare bird thing that people were doing in 1800s, because they had nothing better to do. And one of those species became monstrously invasive, and is now everywhere, right? That’s the, that’s the house Sparrow, European house Sparrow. And then another one, which was the European trip Sparrow was also released in certain small numbers. And it exists only in one tiny, closed population. Somewhere in the middle of the Midwest, I can’t remember where there’s like one town that just like has a bunch of them, and they just sit there and they don’t like, you know, they’re not taking over the world. And that’s weird, right? Because these are very closely related birds. In fact, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, they don’t really look all that different.

Charles Van Rees 

So what’s the deal, right, like some some species will invade. Others will not even if we bring them over and put them places they’re not supposed to be. And this is, of course, an ongoing discourse and inquiry in ecology. So I’m not going to say that this is settled science at all. But generally speaking, we are looking at things that are novel. So something in their ecology makes them different from other niches that are being exploited in the environment. So you can think of it as like an available room. And like in a tropical rainforest, that room is super crowded, like, every little bit of new space is being taken up by some species, that’s really good at it. And so from a competitive perspective, right? Something, it’s gonna be hard for somebody else to fit in there. Whereas other environments are more invasive, or more investable, because they might have more than available niche space. This is why it’s such a problem on islands not to skip around too much so but species that are doing something really different, or one or one form of you know, effective invaders.

Charles Van Rees 

Other things are things that can reproduce super, super fast, or spread super, super well. This means that, if there are those available spots, they’re going to find if something’s made available to them, they’re going to reproduce and spread really, really quickly, in ways that are going to be ecologically disruptive. The thing that helps a lot, which is typical of most things that come from outside is, they are also immune or misaligned to the pathogens and predators and other pressures that would normally keep their populations in check in their home area. And so these things will will come into a new, new ecosystem, and suddenly they are no longer being constrained. Then they could just spread like wildfire as it were. Let’s see, I’m probably missing at least one maybe I can let you toss it over to you.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Yeah, I’m trying to think so. Yeah, they’re novel fast reproducing-

Charles Van Rees 

Oh, maybe disturbance loving-

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

I was gonna say, generalists tend to do really well. Like if if your which is which is actually the brown headed covered thing is really interesting because you would actually I feel like I would have thought like, oh, okay, they rely on the bison then when the bison are gone, they’re gonna be screwed. But yeah, apparently not. So I mean, generalization or at least, like, if you’re talking about a you know, what is the word like a non plant non fungi, like an animal I guess? Then Behavioral flexibility.

Charles Van Rees 

Yes. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that’s a big one. Yeah. Parents out in the world. And that’s part part of it. Because like, they’re so darn smart. They can exploit those niches.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, yeah, that’s yeah, that’s, that’s true that’s going on. Yeah, I think I think that just about covers it. So, I think we’ve been kind of hinting at this, but what are,you know, what are some of the issues with invasive species? And why? Why do they? Why do they matter? Like, I remember having a discussion with a friend in high school, we were on a kind of like a forced school outing, volunteer trip, and we were pulling crowded vetch, I think. And he had he, he just kept being like, but I don’t understand how this is different from survival of the fittest. This species is here. It is succeeding, it is doing well. Why are we trying to remove it? When, you know? This seems like survival of the fittest to me. So so how is it different? Why why is that not the case? Or is it the case?

Charles Van Rees 

Yeah, so I kind of see a couple different questions there that are related in more than so. Yeah. So we ended up at generalist bit, which I think is really good. Like a lot of these are species that because they’re generalists, generalists if they’re native, or not just do better in human messed with environments, wherever we are. And we screw things up and simplify these environments. generalist generalists do better. So that’s it. That’s a big thing to pay attention to here. Because we’re a part of this. And we’re a part of the reason this is bad.

Charles Van Rees 

So the first one, in my mind, would be of those questions would be like, what are the ways that invasive species cause ecological harm, and you know, what even constitutes ecological harm. So the big thing usually has to do with ecological interactions, meaning what you know, what species are doing with and to one another, right, looking at food chains, and competitive interactions and things like that. And so when these new species come up, the reason they’re disruptive is because typically, they are extremely dominant in some way, they are vastly out competing, or eating, or something like that. All these other native species. And as a result, they’re causing a huge reduction in usually the function of that ecosystem. And the the biodiversity, the number of different species and processes that are able to be going on in that ecosystem.

Charles Van Rees 

So again, I think this is much easier to talk about examples. And I’ll give a couple and maybe like to do, because you got real good examples. And all mine tend to be birds, which is terrible. But here’s the here’s a knot. Here’s a not a not bird example. So Tree of Heaven is a really bad invasive plant. In North America, I think it’s, I’m not sure if it’s reached Canada yet. But it for example, it’s a generalist it can grow and and all these environments that we are making for it, which is problematic. And one of the things it does is it actually puts out chemicals and its roots that weaken or kill nearby plants. And so it has a huge competitive advantage over other plants growing in those habitats. And so it can just really aggressively take over. And of course, as we talked about, this ability to reproduce quickly, is also a big one. And this is a tree that can grow super fast, it has wind dispersed seeds, it can also vegetatively reproduce, so it can like spread out its roots, little horizontal suckers that are rhizomes that come out from the root base and grow like a clone.

Charles Van Rees 

And so all of those factors make kind of a perfect storm. And it’s really a disastrous, invasive, and it harms things by killing them with its root poisons, by overshadowing plants, right and stealing their sunlight. It’s a complex competitive interaction. It has an indirect effects of it reduces food for lots of other organisms that relied on those other plants, right, they probably can’t eat it, because it has all sorts of different chemicals and its leaves that they’re not adapted to. So those are kind of the main the main kind of pipelines in my mind for how these things can cause harm, although there are some other weird ones as well.

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Kayla Fratt (KF) 

I can think of like, yeah, like, zebra mussels are I think one of the classic ones where they’re one of their biggest issues are one of the biggest reasons we get really worried about them is how harmful they can be to infrastructure. Which I think particularly when I was in like, when I was like 18 I’d read Edward Abbey for the first time I was like, great, this is fine like I’m all about you know, the planet fighting back. And now that I’m a little bit older and can realize like, where a that’s still just problematic because even if you know maybe We don’t like what hydroelectric dams do to other species, the zebra mussels taking it down or also not, not helping.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

And yeah, so like zebra mussels in particular, like, the big thing that they do is they they’re this teeny, tiny freshwater mussel that’s from a lot of the freshwater bodies actually around Ukraine. They’ve been introduced to the Great Lakes region, as well as they’re in like 46 of the 50 states in the US that are a huge, huge problem. And what they do is they’re about the size of your pinky fingernail when they’re fully grown, but then they grow into these reefs that are super sharp, and they will clog you know, drain pipes, water filtration, you know, all sorts of industry that involves water, the zebra mussels will they grow so thickly that they will clog those pipes. And then on, you know, the recreation side, they form these really thick, very sharp reefs that can really ruin Good swimming beaches. And then they’re also filter feeders. So a lot of times lakes will get suddenly very clear as you’ve got a really nasty zebra mussel infestation, which at first seems great. And then all of the fish babies and you know, the plankton and the other things that are a part of this environment, have lost all of their foods just being filtered out completely by the zebra mussels. So that’s, that’s one that I can think of.

Charles Van Rees 

That’s a really good one. Yeah. And I like that you brought in the the impact to people as well, right? Because that’s another concern here is that these things aren’t just impacting ecosystems, they’re hurting us in various ways. And the numbers are really staggering when we’re talking, you know, in individual countries, hundreds of billions of dollars per year in damages. Worldwide. I mean, we’re definitely approaching a trillion or something. I mean, it’s crazy the amount of the amount of damage and loss that comes from any basis.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

I think that’s a good point. And I think those sorts of arguments can fall differently for different people on the, you know, on the political or like interest spectrum. So I think it’s important to bring that up. Because, again, like, for me, that was never the most compelling thing when I was, especially when I was like in high school and early college. But it is one of the things that can be a lot more compelling for other folks who may not really care that much about, you know, the fact that having too many white tailed deer means that hemlocks are having a really hard time, repopulating in northern northern Wisconsin, because they’re like, well, whatever. I like hunting deer and who gives a shit about hemlocks? And like, fair, I guess, I think they’re delightful trees. I love sitting under hemlocks, there might be my favorite. Like, yeah, if you think that hemlocks to like, the reason that they’re so nice is they just have these huge, huge shade canopies. And there tends to be very little growing underneath them. It’s just this really soft like depth underneath it. It’s just like very filtered, dappled light. It’s delightful.

Charles Van Rees 

And got, that’s another invasive species connection right. There. Another reason why Eastern hemlocks are going are kind of giving extirpated or wiped out throughout a lot of North America right now, is because of the hemlock woolly adelgid, which is a fifth like little beastie from Japan. I think it was from Japan, again, accidentally introduced and has been especially down here in Georgia and more in warmer climates in the Eastern US. The hemlocks are just getting hammered. And it’s, that’s one of that’s probably more than a novelty thing. This is a species that can spread quickly. It’s a species that can reproduce fast, but it’s feeding on these hemlocks in a way that I don’t think they had any native species that were doing it in that abundance. And then it’s also it doesn’t have any native predators. So of course, it’s also escaping those population constraints. So it’s reaching numbers that are way too high. It’s attacking the plant, perhaps in ways that it’s not used to being attacked in levels that it’s not used to. And then we’ve got our hemlocks dying out and it’s really sad for me I can go on walks in the mountains here and find gigantic ones that are clearly you know, they’re on their way out. It’s because of this. So

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

it’s so sad about a really big tree dying. So it’s interesting kind of hearing your talk I feel like for anyone who maybe isn’t getting this and I don’t want to beat people over the head with it, but it sounds also honestly a lot like, you know, the COVID-19 pandemic and what it has done to like the human population where we didn’t have natural or medicinal defenses to it. We didn’t have a vaccine. It was a novel Coronavirus, so it spread really quickly. So if you can think of like the human population as an ecosystem and a virus as an invasive species that maybe is an analogy that will work.

Charles Van Rees 

And that we’d call it like the human path, a genome, right? Like all of the things that are affecting us all the time. That would be an ecosystem where we have stuff we fight off all the time and things like that. Yeah. And then you introduce something that our immune systems have just never freaking seen before. And you get Yeah, you get a huge problem. Yeah.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, exactly.

Charles Van Rees 

And that that might be a good transition into the other question, which I think is a really, really good one for whenever I’m talking with the public is like, well, who cares? Like, yeah, isn’t this just survival of the fittest? Won’t this just lead to us to having all of the best species? Yeah, because life is a tournament, right? And we should all be alpha males.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

I mean, that’s what I was taught in elementary school.

Charles Van Rees 

So I will say two things to this. And I definitely, I’m really interested in your thoughts, because obviously, you’ve done a lot of thinking on this topic, too. So from my end, the biggest thing that people never are that I always want to relate to people from a conservation perspective is like, it’s not just about what’s happening with ecology and conservation is about how fast is it happening?

Charles Van Rees 

People always like, I always get this. I always have this airplane conversation, I sit down on a plane, and I get the dreaded talker. And I’ve talked about this in other podcasts in the past, but there’s always some like, smarmy, clever person who’s like, Oh, what do you do? And I’m like a conservation scientist, blah blah. And I can already see in their face, this is not gonna be fun. And then they get this little smirk. And they’re like, Yeah, well, species go extinct all the time. They’ve been going extinct for billions of years. Like, why should we interfere? And like, oh, my gosh, so there’s two things, right. One is that those extinctions are happening 1000s of times faster than they do on a quote, unquote, natural basis, and we call the background rate of extinction. And that speed of erosion is not going to lead to the extinction of life on this planet. It’s not going to like wipe out life. It’s gonna wipe out us though, like we as humans depend on functional ecosystems, if they are gone, we are gone, nature will be fine. It will, you know, like, like enough cockroaches will survive. And like whatever just just ecosystems will restart

Kayla Fratt 

The roaches, and the Norway rats, and the rock doves are all just to live happily ever after together.

Charles Van Rees 

Yeah, crazy fungi that can eat metal and whatever else. But like, we’re not going to be around basically, like, we’re the ones who depend on this stuff. That’s kind of the funny part. But anyway, so we can’t have extensive extinctions happening this this quickly. So that’s a big part of it.

Charles Van Rees 

The other thing is that like, you can’t look at it as a purely competitive thing, like competition is a major part of nature. But so is like this weird synergy and cyclical renewal. And what some people might call, like reciprocity in nature, like there are all these species, indirectly or not, are depending on it’s not necessarily always an equilibrium form. But they’re depending on this kind of steady state, vast network, the self stabilizing network of interactions between species and the and the environment that make life possible. And when we introduce a new species, it’s not that that one’s better. Right, that that’s the reason it’s invading. It’s because it’s different. And it’s from outside that system is so all it’s really doing is disrupting that system and causing it to shift to something new. It’s not that it’s like stronger, you know, like so I hate that like, that term survival of the fittest. It’s probably the most misused and abused phrase in science nowadays. Take there, but like, everyone’s you know, like, you can ask, I think there was some scientists who pulled a bunch of college students like, what do you think when you hear fittest or what do you think when you hear yourself and everyone said strong? Or like, aggressive?

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Yeah, and it’s about fit, like, the way your clothes fit, right?

Charles Van Rees 

Oh, you know, I’ve never heard that. But I think that’s a really, that’s that’s a good point. And sometimes it’s even it’s just so you know, the biological definition of fitness is so freakin indirect. But the point being like, fitness is not always about like, being better and like, what does that even mean? Right? It’s more about like, yeah, what was favored by whatever circumstances over time, like what happened to be the thing that was left is a lot of time. What is the thing that is fittest, you know? Yeah, being the one left out We’re not being like the toughest whatever. It’s, there’s a difference there. That’s subtle. Okay, that’s my blabber on it. What? How did you answer your friend who brought that up? Who trolled you on that?

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Well? Yeah, I think I really focused on, like the harm and the harmony. I was like, I was like 17 at the time, so I probably spluttered a lot. I also had a huge crush on this friend, so who knows? It’s like, me, so I’m not gonna argue with you. Yeah, that’s probably why I still remember it so well, because there was like other. Yeah, I really don’t think I had a great answer for it. And now, you know, I don’t think I can say anything that you haven’t already said well, in this but, you know, I really focus on that balance and how disruptive things are, and I’m definitely someone who I think whenever I’m dealing with someone who does not understand something, my first instinct is to jump to analogy.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

And I try to pick an analogy that will work for my audience, if I have the ability to grasp that audience. So actually, for example, last night, I was hanging out with someone who is, he’s a union organizer. He knows nothing about biology. He was a music major in in college, and got a master’s in music, education, and now does unionizing. So just nothing related to this. And if I were, if he had asked me this question, I probably would have brought it out to the question of, like, really disruptive politics, where if you have unstable and unhealthy political systems, they’re much more at risk for really viral and intense and new ideas. And that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to move a political body and the direction you want to go. So like those are, that’s always my first approach is trying to figure out an analogy. That is going to work for the audience. And it may not be perfect, but you know, can start getting people to move in the right direction.

Charles Van Rees 

Yeah, I agree. I think this is it visitors a particularly elusive one for effective metaphor, but I liked the one you use a lot. That’s super helpful.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Yeah, I mean, I think the downside of the metaphor I used as far as like political disruption is that it does. The first step, usually in political disruption is having a kind of a weekend political system to begin with. And that’s not necessarily the case. For an invasive species, it does make it easier. But it’s not just that a highly disturbed ecosystem is going to end up with an invasive species, it can happen even in pretty healthy and well balanced ecosystems.

Charles Van Rees 

But certainly, things like isolation, which makes sense in near metaphor. And disturbance, like humans coming in and messing with an ecosystem, both of those things in freshwater and marine interactions, both of those things will make them vastly more vulnerable. So I think that’s a fantastic analogy there.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Yeah, thank you. So yeah, I guess that, that brings us to, you know, the next thing we want to talk about, which is, so how do invasive species like, how did they happen? Like, you know, we kind of hinted at it earlier with this purple loosestrife example, which is a very beautiful purple plant that it’s highly invasive. They came around in gardens, but like things like zebra mussels, where do they come from this Tree of Heaven? How did that happen? These invasive parrots in Southern California, where do they come from?

Charles Van Rees 

Right, right. So where did the mussels come from?

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

They were they were in ballast water and big shipping ships.

Charles Van Rees 

Yeah, that’s the I hear the ballast water one a lot.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

And nowadays, the way that they move around is also in like, you know, fishing vessels you get to go fishing at your cabin in Wisconsin, you come home to Wyoming, you didn’t properly clean, dry, drained, dry your boat. And now we’ve got zebra mussels and zebra mussels, generally, it’s not just the adults that move around. But it’s actually the microscopic villagers, which hints at where detection dogs can come in. Because it’s one thing to find a pinkie size, a pinky fingernail sized thing and about not easy, but you can do it. But if you’ve got a microscopic villager, humans just don’t have a prayer of finding checks. It’s just not going to happen.

Charles Van Rees 

I was like, oh, I want to talk about Barley so bad! Okay, all right. I’m gonna restrain my enthusiasm for that portion of this episode. So Oh, yes. Great, great point. And that’s a really good example. So the ballast water is an interesting one that I think it’s very illustrative. So most of these invasive species that are not from a place are getting in the reason they’re not from a place, it’s because throughout their evolutionary history of millions or whatever of yours, there’s been no way for them to get there, there’s been some barrier, right of habitat something in the way.

Charles Van Rees 

And humans because we’re really good at transporting stuff, and we love doing it are intentionally or accidentally facilitating the movement of that organism, suddenly to a system from which it has been isolated for its entire evolutionary history. You know, for some huge portion of it, and then we get all these issues, right, then we get this whole business with, Okay, well, it doesn’t fit in with all the little moving pieces of that ecosystem and starts to cause issues. Ballast Water is a great one. I love that. So this is kind of weird to imagine. But Hawaii, which is a place very near and dear to my heart place where I’ve done a lot of my work and built a lot of my career in conservation. Beautiful, beautiful archipelago of tropical islands. Out in the absolute middle of nowhere in the Pacific. Far from everything. And so tons of stuff never got there. And invasive species are a titanic problem there. Again, this is isolation that we’re talking about. Imagine this though. tropical island paradise, blah, blah, blah, no mosquitoes. There were no mosquitoes in Hawaii. There were no native mosquitoes there. Nothing like you could just run around.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

It is much more heaven than I imagined.

Charles Van Rees 

And sure enough, ballast water. There is a species of mosquito that can deal with a certain amount of salt and face their larvae survived in ballast water in some kind of big shipping ship from Japan that arrived. It showed up and of course, these these mosquitoes got out. And now not only are they horrifically overpopulated these mosquitoes are just everywhere, because there’s nothing that eats them. These islands, but then nothing’s prepared for them.

Charles Van Rees 

So they actually they carry diseases that most native to that there’s a there’s an avian malaria, which is a malaria that affects, right, it’s a protozoan that affects birds and that people and these mosquitoes carry it. And it has been wiping out tons and tons of Hawaiian forest birds that evolved for many, many, many, many, many years not dealing with that because there were no mosquitoes. And they have no defense. There’s nothing they can do. And, and the only thing that’s keeping them safe is that they are at living at a certain elevation that these mosquitoes can’t get to because it’s too cold sometimes. And now with climate change, that area is shrinking and shrinking and shrinking. And we are literally like since I started my PhD in 2012. Like we’re just sitting there, we’re just watching the species go extinct. Because the climate shifting and the mosquitoes marching upward and upward. There’s nowhere for them to go eventually. Super depressing. But a great a great, you know another example of the ballast water problem.

Charles Van Rees 

Another big one is horticulture. Right? We love certain kinds of plants. And I can’t blame us because plants are lovely. But we like to move plants that we find pleasant to new places, because we miss them because we miss home or we want to eat the stuff that they make or they smell nice. I’m a big sucker for that. Personally, I love plants that smell nice. And so we introduced new plants places. And just like you said, Purple Loosestrife. There’s a reason that people brought it over. It’s beautiful, lovely. It’s a stunning, cool, gorgeous plant. But it also happened to meet those criteria for an invasive down here in the south. I don’t actually know why kudzu was introduced. I’m not sure if it if it was intentional or not. But we have

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

I don’t know for sure down south but in Latin America, they plant kudzu as a it’s a hearty, nutritious grazing option for goats and sheep. So when I lived in Latin America, when I lived in Panama in 2011, the first time ever heard of coons it was because we were planting it intentionally.

Charles Van Rees 

Oh my goodness. Yeah. Like, Oh, no. Yeah, that’s well, planted kudzu somewhere. Yeah, I suspect it might be less harmful in a tropical setting. I think there’s probably more stuff that could compete

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

though. It’s like when I was in Panama was highly agricultural as well, though. So it already is like a highly disturbed ecosystem where you can and that’s actually I’m sorry to interrupt but I just noticed was yesterday and I’m fascinated by it. And I haven’t done any Googling, but here in Nebraska, the cattle tend to hang out under the wind turbines, because that’s where the machine is in their pastures. And I was driving, and I was looking at looking out the window at the wind turbines. And I noticed that under all of the wind turbines in about the radius of 100 meters by 100, you know, 100 meters out in any direction from these wind turbines. It’s like nothing but verbena. And I was like, I wonder if either this is something that because the cattle are trampling the area, so other grasses can’t grow, and the beer ban is no thing that can survive. Maybe it’s not very nefarious, or maybe it’s something that is transported by the cattle in their droppings, and it’s coming there. But I think there’s got to be something related to the fact that the cattle tend to hang out near the wind turbines. And this verbena, also being your the wind turbines. And while you think of your next couple examples of how they move around, I’m going to Google. Verbena is invasive to Nebraska because I just thought of this yesterday.

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Charles Van Rees 

It could be a nutrient enrichment thing too, right? Like maybe those they’re just in the seed bank there. But there’s more cow poo and pee that introduces urea nitrogen that gets them going either way. This is, this is yet another example of why you should be a professor and everyone should join your lab anyway.

Charles Van Rees 

So we’ve got to talk about mechanisms here. So anyway, those are a couple of mechanisms, right? So we have people bring in plants because we want them so so like in Georgia. At least one really, really invasive vine here is Wisteria. And it’s from China. Originally, there’s a whole bunch of different versions, but there’s one from China is one from Japan. It’s a beautiful, beautiful vine. It grows very prettily. It has these big inflorescences of purple flowers, and they smell utterly delightful. It is one of my favorite things in the world. I love how they smell. They’re so pretty. You can grow on like gables and stuff, but they’re let down here, they are insanely invasive, they take over vast amounts of land, they outcompete native species, they’re a problem. But we brought him in because they’re nice, but they can be nice and a huge problem, right? Those, those two things can exist.

Charles Van Rees 

Okay, so a couple terms, just because I’m a real vocab guy that we might want to focus on here for talking so you can understand what people are talking about when they’re discussing invasive. So we were talking about right now about mechanisms right for how they get there. We call those mechanisms of arrival, or introduction. And that’s that’s the stage when something first gets to a new place. And the things that do the arriving, the things that are introduced, are what are called propagules. And one of the things that can help the species become a problem is what’s called propagule pressure. So how much or how often are those propagules being introduced to a place, right? If you just don’t know, toss a handful of seeds in the ground once and happens to be near ant colony and they collect all those seeds and eat them? Well, you’re not gonna get an invasion, it just didn’t have a chance.

Charles Van Rees 

If you are just dropping seed bombs all over the country, the chances that one of those is going to take and catch off is much greater. So that’s the propagule pressure thing. And then I keep alluding to this concept. And now I want to put a word to it so I can use the word later is establishment. So when I start with something taking right establishment is when the invasive species grows enough in population or an area that now it’s it’s its own self sustaining population, new product yields are no longer necessary and it’s doing its own thing and then probably going from there, right? Yeah.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Because if you just released five, male, whatever to an environment they’re not going to be able to become self sustaining. But if you introduce five pregnant females, you’re gonna have a problem. Yeah. And it also just sorry to interrupt the I did just so they’re this hoary vervain, which is Verbena is mature language isn’t. Its native, but it is considered a weed and it is most common and problematic and overgrazed and disturbed rangelands, prairies disturbed so types, and it does sound like it doesn’t say why or how it’s harmful necessarily, but it does. It’s you know, they’re like, Yeah, this is something you probably want to take care of on your on your property if it’s a big problem, so they give a couple options for it. So it is actually maybe an example of one of those like harmful natives. I don’t know if it’s full on invasive but it is harmful. So anyway, okay, so we’ve got propagules and what was was the first one I’ve already forgotten.

Charles Van Rees 

Okay, we’ve got a rival with our arrival or introduction. We’ve got propagules you guys establishment. And the last one would be like, okay, you’ve got your established population, they are growing, they are reproducing, they are eating everything are out shading everything or doing whatever they’re doing. And then you get what’s called secondary spread, which is from an established population. By dint of their massive reproduction, they are spreading across the landscape and taking over more stuff. And that’s, that’s, that’s secondary spreading. And I hear that from invasive species people a lot when I first started here, and I was like, What the hell does that mean? So that’s our, that’s our kind of key vocab here for the process.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Excellent. I’ll make sure all of that ends up in our show notes. So if anyone needs to double check that they can just go back and have a quick reference. And we’ll also link to like your blog posts and all of those things as well. We’re going to take a quick ad break. And when we come back, we’re going to talk a little bit more about how do we deal with invasive species and particularly where conservation detection dogs coming in.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Patreon book club is in full swing, we just finished up detector dogs and scent movement by Tom auster camp and are about to start canine ergonomics, the science of working dogs. To join our book club for three bucks a month head on over to patreon.com/k9conservationists. We also offer monthly group coaching sessions for aspiring handlers, puppy raisers and pros, as well as a monthly rotation of free webinars, workshops and roundtables with experts. Again, three bucks a month up to 25 bucks a month, kind of depending on what level of support you want to give and receive. Check that out at patreon.com/k9conservationists; I hope to see you join us there soon.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

And we are back. So Charles, what, what are our options when dealing with invasive species? Like? Okay, so we’ve got them, we brought them here. In most cases, this is kind of our fault. What do we do?

Charles Van Rees 

Okay, the and this is what’s what everyone is asking because this is a really intensely recalcitrant issue. Invasive species, our vocab word hard. It’s a good word. It used to be really hard to deal with. But I think it’s really good that we left off with those vocab words, because they will help us here. Those are kind of telling us about different stages of which the invasive process happens, right. Okay. And how we deal with this problem. Or perhaps more appropriately, if we can deal with this problem has a lot to do with where we are in this process, and which vocab words we are currently dealing with.

Charles Van Rees 

So the highest level goal typically is what we’re calling eradication, we don’t want this species here causing problems, costing money, wiping out our ecosystems, whatever it is, we just don’t, we don’t want it. And if we can totally get rid of it, and remove all of them from the ecosystem, that’s great, that’s eradication, that is typically only feasible, really early on in the process.

Charles Van Rees 

So pre establishment, we’re talking about, okay, shortly after introduction, before, we’re trying that we’re trying to find those proper gills and eliminate them before they can start reproducing and establishing and certainly before they’re at the point where there’s a secondary spread going on. If you get to that point of establishment, oftentimes, it is going to be too late. It is now impossible. To get rid of that species, you need just massive amounts of effort usually, to if they’re animal usually trying to capture them. If they’re a plant or some or something stationary, you’re trying to like physically right, remove them from the ground. When they start to take over huge amounts of area, that becomes impossible, you don’t there’s no way to have the money or the person power to do something like that.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

At risk of being pedantic about metaphors, I feel like this is the example of like, at some point, you’ve got a couch where you’ve had too many dogs on it for too long and you are never getting all of the dog hair out of it. Like, it’s just never gonna happen like it. It doesn’t matter if you remove the dog from the couch permanently. It comes you just have too much in there. And I think most of our listeners probably get the dog hair analogy.

Charles Van Rees 

That’s a good one and I guess to to continue along that thought path. You’re going to Change your expectations of that couch from that one, you might even change the way you use that couch, that might become the dog house that might become the screened in porch, whatever outdoor couch that might be, I don’t know what else, it’s probably not the one that you’re gonna have, you know, some beloved guests sleep on when they come to visit you because you don’t feel good about the condition it’s in. Similarly, we have to change our expectations and our management of an ecosystem, or of an invasive species, when it shifts from being you know, a recent introduction that we might have had a chance at to an established one. Typically, there were what we’re doing is okay, how can we keep this from getting any worse.

Charles Van Rees 

So there’s different ways of doing that. One is, I think a lot of times they call this mitigation, or trying to deal with and manage the impacts of that invasive, preventing them from getting too bad. So it’s here, we’re stuck with it. This is our life now to use, uh, you know, this is my life. Yeah. And we have to deal with it, we are just trying to find ways to make its impacts lower. So that might be removing it from certain places at certain times. Like getting rid of it during the breeding season for certain birds, and maybe it takes over again during the winter, but we don’t care, something like that. It also means usually containment.

Charles Van Rees 

So okay, we had to retreat, we had to do a tactical retreat, we lost right in this one area that invasive species took over. Okay, well, let’s prevent secondary spread. Let’s prevent it from going any further. This is definitely a big part of the approach. And this might be our chance to finally dive in and, and fan out over barley. But like, with Zebra Mussels, that’s kind of where we’re at right there. Was at Lake Powell, right, like we lost. Yeah, right. We like to say, they’re never going away. Without some radical, you know, technology and radical expense, they’re never going away. They are so entrenched there. But there are lots of bodies of water that they could invade, where they are not. Yes, yeah. And if we can keep them from spreading there, that is fantastic. That’s, that’s, that’s a win, right? You have to change your expectations. So if you can clean up that dog couch to at least be clean enough to be like presentable, and then the dog can sleep on it when they need to. That’s a win. So that’s, I think that’s the biggest thing, what we think of is that we, we have to kind of move through this workflow and change what we’re doing based on how bad the situation is. And that’s not to say that people don’t eradicate species that are established. But it’s rare. And it’s really, really hard to do. And usually it involves some, you know, incredible innovation, or tons of people donating money, or tons of people donating their time through, you know, community or citizen science efforts and things like that.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Right. Yeah. And, you know, I think they’re kind of going sticking with this dog couch analogy, like you have tools that you can use to reduce or mitigate. Yeah, that spread where like, you know, Niffler, for example, sheds much more than barley. Even though he does not need brushing as far as his coat getting tangled. If I take him out, and I do some really good under coat raking, which is just a specific brush that really gets his that fluffy undercoat out. And I pull out gobs of hair when I’m outside and can throw them away. And then it’s not as bad in like, my rental car or on the couch or in the place that I’m renting. And no, it doesn’t mean that there’s no dog hair in here. But it’s kind of a manageable level.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

And I think that’s, that’s a lot of the invasives that I think, unfortunately we’re familiar with, we’re kind of at that stage where it’s like, Okay, I’m going to try to protect this new piece of furniture from the dogs. Yes. And I’m going to do what I can to make it so that it doesn’t look like I’m a crazy dog lady. The second you walk into my house. And yeah, like that’s, that’s where we’re at with Zebra Mussels, where it’s like, okay, we’re never going to get zebra mussels out of Lake Powell. Unless, you know, of course, as soon as you said that it was I mean, we could drain the lake and like, let it sit totally dry for a while and then we could refill it and like that might work. Or we could like maybe engineer some sort of virus that only attacks zebra mussels and like, you know, it’s like, yeah, it’s like, okay, that’s very expensive and has a lot of potential risks and drawbacks as well. Like I could shave both of my dogs but that also would not necessarily fix my couch problem and would have some other not good effects.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Like what Barley and I were doing when we were stationed in Yellowstone was we were trying to keep zebra mussels out of like Yellowstone, which is the headwaters of the Yellowstone River ecosystem. Because if they were to get into like Yellowstone, they would go downstream and end up in everything else downstream of it. And that was that was what we were working on.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

And then, you know, when we were working on the dyers woad project, that was the sort of thing where and dyers woad is an invasive plant similar to Tree of Heaven, it’s allelopathic. So it’s got it releases stuff from its roots that kills nearby plants, it a single plant can produce 10,000 seeds. So you can imagine if you miss one, you’re back to square one next season, like you’re screwed. And there is dyers world is pretty heavily established in certain parts of Idaho. So they’re not working on dealing with it there. They do some spraying campaigns just to keep it down. But they’re not really trying to eradicate it there.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

And we were working on mountain Sentinel in Missoula, where there was it was like on the cusp of becoming established. And they’ve had years where they’ve gotten it down to the point where there are no, they don’t find any plants all year. And then the next year, there’ll be like 10, and they kind of just keep playing Whack a Mole with this plant trying to get to the point where we can have multiple years in a row with no, nope, new plants.

Charles Van Rees 

Wacka tastic analogy for that mitigate? Yes.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

That’s great. Yeah. And that’s, you know, and that’s where I think we can also talk about like, these, these phases of invasives? And how, how dogs can be used differently at different phases. So maybe why don’t you talk about the different phases or like stages of invasive species? And then we can kind of I can jump in and jam a little bit on how and where dogs may be useful, or maybe not at that given stage?

Charles Van Rees 

Sure. Yeah, I love that idea. I might take one very quick step back to a point. I mean, this, this fits well, if you’re asking me to, I promise, I’m not just running off the rails, but in terms of the management, which also relates to the stage of these invasive species and other major thing, right? That is the preferred way to do this.

Charles Van Rees 

And now my metaphor brain is going towards self defense, which is another thing that I’m really passionate about, I teach martial arts and self defense. And the highest level of martial art, you know, according to a lot of my mentors, is never having to fight somebody is not being in that situation. And that’s what I always try to teach in self defense is like, yeah, it’s great. If you know, all these moves, whatever, if you have a can of pepper spray, you know, you can get out of a situation. But even better, is that you never ran into that person. Yeah. Or that you were never in a position where they could target you or whatever. And I don’t want this to ever, you know, especially in the self defense context ever come across as like victim blaming for anyone, but I just mean, right? It’s even better if you’re not there. That’s even safer.

Charles Van Rees 

So I’m, you know, whenever people want to, like, I always go to parties, and people go, Oh, yeah, you’re a martial artist, like Teach me some cool moves. And I’m like, honestly, the thing that’s really going to help you is, can you read people? Can you talk to people? Can you see what they’re thinking? Or doing or something off about someone or someone starting to get too angry? Can you can you deescalate can you be? Can you talk in a way that’s not going to drive somebody off the wall? If they look like they’re really on edge, like preventative measures, right? If you’re walking down the street, and someone looks a little sketchy? Well, you know what, I’m not going to keep walking this way. Maybe I’ll find another way. Just little things like that.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Yeah, like when you’re traveling, like don’t walk around with your phone in front of your face, clearly lost all the time, and don’t have your wallet sticking halfway out of your back pocket.

Charles Van Rees 

Right? Right, right. Or if someone suddenly just kind of started coming in and talking to you, and you can tell there’s something off about it, well, maybe find a way to just redirect and say, oh, yeah, sorry, no, I’m on my way into the cheese shop. And then you leave, right? Like you don’t you don’t have to engage with people you don’t want to.

Charles Van Rees 

So anyway, that’s obviously something for a future self defense podcast. Just kidding. But like, but like, the thing with invasive species here, is this the same? Like it’s better if they just don’t come here, it’s better if we don’t have to deal with them at all if we don’t even get the propagules. So, and this, of course, ties into the conservation dog stuff again, but like, how do we prevent these things from ever arriving in our ecosystems? Yeah, and whether that secondary spread or initial introduction, right. Anyway, so that’s, that was the that was the extra point that we probably wanted to touch on. So with regards to management, and you know, where the dogs come in, right, we talked about occurrence data before, which requires detection of the species and detection is the big term that we use so much and invasive species work and everybody No, just dog stuff is of course perking up right now like, yeah, dogs. That word. Yeah, like dogs are phenomenal at detecting things, especially things that give off biochemical signatures and surprise, surprise, all forms of life give off some biochemical signature. Dogs can detect it in the parts per trillion or something. Right? So there’s our big overlap.

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Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Yeah, no, that’s exactly right. I think, you know, obviously, it’s right in the name detection dogs conservation detection. Dogs are excellent at locating things. And I think, you know, when we’re thinking about invasive species, the question is not necessarily, Can dogs find X? Can dogs find Y? Can they can dogs locate the scat of an invasive wild boar? Sure. Can they find? You know, a little, tiny babies seedling of an invasive? I don’t know buckthorn? Sure, absolutely. Yes, they can. And now the question is, do we have appropriate eradication tools that we can act on what the dogs have found? Do we have appropriate mitigation tools to ensure that things don’t just reestablish immediately or that we can actually kill this, like I remember I also did some volunteer work with buckthorn, and it was nuts what we had to do to try to kill these plants once they were older.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

You know, and like a lot of these invasives, like you mentioned with Tree of Heaven, they can grow back up from little stubs of roots. So if you’re not incredibly careful with how you remove them, you could end up accidentally creating a hydra, where you’ve pulled out the one plant and now you have 17 brand new baby plants popping up next season where there was just one and it’s just this nightmare situation.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

So, you know, generally I think this is a common thing and detection dogs in general, the question isn’t, Can dogs find it? Because the answer is almost always yes. The question we should be asking is, are they cost effective? Are they efficient? Do we have the tools to make the next steps? If yes, on both of those? So

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

for example, like Can dogs do shoreline searches to locate zebra mussels that are actually in the water? Yep. Great at it. In a lot of cases. However, once the we’ve got an established brief of zebra mussels in a given Lake, that’s basically just information that we can then use to manage that body of water differently, we’re not necessarily going to be able to use that as a way to then eradicate those zebra mussels from that lake in most cases.

Charles Van Rees 

Right. Right.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

So does, yeah, that’s actually a little bit lukewarm. But I think one of the important things to note with invasive species is a lot of times by the time you’re starting to see leafy spurge all over your local trail, and you are starting to notice it everywhere, we’re kind of in mitigation phase, where the best we can do is start pulling, we can start dealing with it. And conservation dogs may be able to help locate leftovers, or kind of the initial, like the boundaries of an invasive species infestation, but they’re not necessarily going to be our primary tool for dealing with like that point where you’re like walking along the trail, and you’re like, there’s one, there’s one, there’s another, there’s another, there’s 15 in a 10 foot radius of me, we don’t need dogs at that stage, right, then that’s where like human workers can come in and eradicate or remove as many of those as they can. And then maybe we bring the dogs in a couple of weeks later to try to find any of the little teeny tiny seedlings that they missed, or we’re taking dogs out to the edge and we’re trying to district around. Okay, so how bad is this leafy spurge problem? Where does it end? How can we draw a line around this infestation, and figure out what to do next? Does that answer the question? Am I just muddying the waters more?

Charles Van Rees 

No, no, I thought that was excellent. And you brought up a really a bunch of really good points there. I thought and those examples, again, I think I think you’re doing an amazing job of bringing forth just hugely illustrative helpful examples that are that I assume are going to be as helpful for listeners as they have been to me. I actually have a question about examples of applications of conservation dogs that you’ve seen. Before I add up that question, I will a little bit of a soundbite here that keeps popping up into my head is like, just to like to try to illustrate what I think you’ve been saying. So Well, like I think the issue with conservation dogs is like, they have a superpower. We know they have a superpower. It works. There’s no question about that. How do we use it in the best ways for these conservation applications? I think that’s always the question. It’s never like, Oh, are they effective? Like I see that like in the titles of scientific papers, and I’m like, Who are you trying to kid with it? Like of course they’re effective. Like, probably one of the most powerful, you know, biological, sensory systems out there like you can.

Charles Van Rees 

Anyway. So that rant aside, my question for you is thinking about that, that earliest stage, right? That that, that going into the cheese shop when someone’s looking at you funny or or whatever, right avoiding avoiding the fight of trying to avoid the introduction stage like pre empting the entire problem. Do you see people, you know, on like an international basis, meaning preventing an evasive from even getting into a country? For example? Do you see people employing conservation dogs there? Or is it more? Okay, okay, so it’s so yeah, like, would there be, you know, an equivalent to like a drug detection dog in the airport being like, you’re bringing bananas into this country? And you’re not allowed to do that? Because it might bring it.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

We just did an interview with Grant Blackley, who is a patron of the podcast, and he got his start doing doing basically airport stuff for biological imports that are not supposed to be imported. So yeah, they definitely can be used in that way. island nations are good about that. Yeah. Because, you know, like, it’s, it’s so much harder to really properly do that on a land border. Right, right. Right. Yeah, island nations tend to be good about it. And then some of the other ways, like really early on that conservation arms can be used.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

So like, again, going back to the zebra mussel example, that’s an easy one, because we can be like, Alright, before you get your launch permit for your boat, dog has to sniff your boat, relatively easy and straightforward, great. Then there’s, and there’s a woman out of California, who runs mussel dogs, and like, that is their whole thing. She’s got a team of like, I don’t know, 8 to12 to 15 dogs, and all they do is zebra mussel mitigation work like it’s a niche, you can, you can totally do that.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

The other thing that Kyoko Johnson from Conservation Dogs Hawaii has talked about and like us, within K9Conservationists have talked about. But I don’t know if anyone has actually taken the leap to do this yet would be creating kind of a rapid response repertoire of odors that your dog is already aware of, and your dog has already trained on, so that if something were to happen, you could be like a rapid response team at that first stage.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Because the problem, one of the problems with invasive species, not just with dogs, but really in general is like, okay, so say we’ve got someone transporting a truckload of an insect across the country. Whatever reason, I don’t know, they’re on their way to some lab. And the truck tips over and everything escapes. This is now getting into like sci fi horror, crossover. But imagine, you know, part of the problem there is then it’s like, okay, we need to recognize the problem, we need to get funding, we need to assemble a team, we need to go out we need to try to find all of these guys before they go out. And they become their own established population. And there are invasive species within North America. And I’m sure this is the same for wherever you’re listening, where you’re like, Yeah, I’m aware of the fact that in a similar ecosystem to my home base, this invasive is a problem. If I were to train my dog on this, uh, we could then be ready to deploy and we can deal with the budget questions later, quickly.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

And like that is something that I would be really interested in seeing and I don’t quite know how or when it couldn’t happen. But being able to jump on some of these these things right away. That’s this is more like the pepper spray approach. Where you’ve got something that is like, it’s ready, it’s a quick draw, and it’s gonna do going to do the job right away before we’re in the stage of now we’re trying to like grapple with someone who’s trying to do whatever. Yeah, yeah. Trying to trying to go with your, your metaphor that is a little bit more your territory than mine.

Charles Van Rees 

It’s it’s a it’s a very ugly metaphor, but I think at least in the preemptive part, it works well. But no, I your pepper spray is spot on. I just, I find stinky couches, a lot more pleasant than pepper spray. But yeah. So I think the only other thing that I would want to mention in terms of conservation dog involvement, which I don’t think we have, at least specifically highlighted, but we’ve kind of talked about it a little bit is like, even if things are out there worse, and this species is here, and it’s secondary spreading and whatever. Monitoring is huge to Yeah, like even if it’s already in a place, even if it’s already in like Lake Powell. The other thing that we want is not just the knowledge that it’s there, but what’s it doing there. Like just having what what scientists would call like time series of information, like keeping track of how it’s moving or the or the populations fluctuating looking at a bar and dense and percentage of cover and things like that of these species is another really important one. And another just like day to day grind sort of data collection that that dogs are excellent at.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Yeah. And I think, yeah, and one other thing that I know I’m conservation dogs have been used for. And I believe this as primarily working dogs for conservation gig down in. In Iowa, they were working on an invasive species of less DIDIZA. And there, if I’m remembering correctly, what they were basically working on is kind of using the dogs as a way to test their eradication, eradication and mitigation measures. So they were like, Okay, we’re gonna take this plot of land. And now I’ll just do this hypothetical, because I’m not entirely sure if this is what they’re doing. But we’re going to take plot a, we’re going to burn it, plot B, we’re going to spray plot c, we’re going to send out an army of volunteers who are just going to go in hand pull everything. Now we’re going to take the dogs out and check and see which one was most successful. One month out six months out a year out. And we can use the dogs as a way to basically check our work. And again, I think we’ve hinted at this, but like, I think with a lot of our more established invasive species where conservation Dogs are most useful as as part of a team.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

You You can use the dogs as a way to check the work of human teams as a way to find the ones that they missed. And, you know, with the example of zebra mussels, like as a way to find the things that humans again, just don’t have a chance of finding, but they in most cases with invasive species, I don’t think dogs are ever going to be the only tool for a lot of these things. But honestly, I think that’s kind of how most science goes, you’re very rarely going to be like Aha, the one camera trap, it’s going to like study science.

Charles Van Rees 

Yeah. It’s just endlessly interdisciplinary and collaborative. And there’s no other way to do it. When it comes to conservation. I totally agree. I think yeah, yeah. Dark conservation detection dogs or just dogs have a slash are a superpower. That does not mean they don’t need an Avengers. Right? They need to be part of that team.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Yeah, this is just like the metaphor podcast. Oh, and one other thing that I think about a lot with conservation detection dogs and invasive species in particular is I think this is the area where I am most excited to see more civilian scientist excited amateurs, volunteers with conservation dogs getting involved in the invasive species fight. Because I think when you’re working with something, if we’re looking at some of the other uses for conservation logs, if you’re looking at monitoring an endangered species, or ecosystems, and much more kind of like rigorous science, that is a place where I think it is really truly best to have like a professional team come in.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

And I’m not just saying that because I want drops, like I was just consulting with someone who was talking about trying to get an amateur citizen science program up and running for a given an amphibian. And when they were describing to me the project, I was just like, I really think we need to get a professional team on the ground and do at least a test season with this first, before we start trying to get civilian scientists up and running a volunteer team up and running with us because we there are just too many unknowns with this project right now, I cannot actually fully help you without kind of having it tested out on the ground. invasives are in some ways similar, but in other ways different I think there is a lot more openness to the idea of hey, we’re gonna have a big weed pull day organized by the local hiking club.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Yeah, just friends of X national forest are all getting together, there’s going to be doughnuts and coffee, and we’re going to all go pull leafy spurge. I think that is an area where I could absolutely see more amateur conservation dog handlers being like, Hey, I’ve trained my dog to do this, can I bring my dog to this day, and we’re just going to help out, you know, and I would love to see more of that, because there’s so many people who are so eager to help and so many people whose dogs are eager to do this work, who for whatever reason aren’t going to do this full time either because this field is ridiculously difficult to break into and make it make a living doing or because they like their real job. And they like the stability and they just want to go do this a couple of weekends a year. I think invasives are like the place that that could happen. And I’m really excited and hopeful to see more of that in the coming years.

Charles Van Rees 

Well said I love that. Yeah.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Okay. Is there anything else? We’re we’ve already got a little bit long as we tend to, that we need to bring up Can we can we talk about your most recent paper, it’s okay people or people can pause this and come back to it. They’re adults.

Charles Van Rees 

Sure. Yeah, I think it’s I think it’s pretty quick overall. But yeah, my my last position at the University of Montana, had a major invasive species focus. And as part of that, I sort of coordinated and brought together sort of a science Avengers around technology for addressing the invasive species crisis, the invasion crisis, as they’re calling it. And we yeah, we had this paper that was just that was recently published in a really fantastic, far reaching journal called biological reviews. And it’s this, it’s this massive, you know, very technical paper, but it goes through all of the coolest, you know, cutting edge technologies that have been coming out, and how those can be integrated into a kind of coherent science policy practice approach to dealing with species invasions, and hopefully, you know, keeping them from getting any worse. And so we talk about, okay, well, you know, how do you describe the environment that you’re seeing things in, you know, drones and all sorts of cool stuff like that? And how do you use special kinds of math to figure out where the species are gonna go next, and things like that.

Charles Van Rees 

But one of the biggest parts of that whole paper is like, how do we find these things in the first place? How do we detect and monitor these populations over time? And, of course, one of the coolest examples of this technology for doing this sort of thing, that’s, that’s super effective, and not enough people know about it is constant detection dogs, right. And so we have, we have some some fantastic language in there about it. And I’m really hoping that that will get broader recognition of conservation detection dogs in the field, because I was working with scientists from all over the world, developing that paper, and a lot of them had never really thought about the concept, you know, I mentioned it, and they’re like, Well, what the hell is that? Or they said, like, Oh, that’s cute. Haha. And that was like, no, no, this is like real, like, we could be doing this. And so hopefully, you know, in a journal with that kind of authority coming from the University of Cambridge and stuff like that, like, we’re hoping, you know,

Kayla Fratt 

I think it was also kind of snuck in there, because the folks who are reading that may not be the sort of person who would choose to read the article on. You know, like, Dr. Richards has a book called using detector dogs to monitor aquatic ecosystems, they clearly haven’t read that book and probably aren’t going to, or, you know, using detection dogs to monitor beaver populations or whatever. Like, I’m not remembering the title of that paper. Right. But they clearly haven’t read that paper. And they’re not likely to yet. So can we get it in and get it out in some of these other venues, I think is absolutely something we need more of, for this, this tool to be utilized to its fullest potential, because I think we’ve got a long way to go before conservation dogs are actually reaching anywhere close to their full potential of impact within this field.

Charles Van Rees 

Yeah, I totally agree. So yeah, yeah.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

And that’s probably a good note to end on. I want to keep talking. But we do need to let you go. So, Charles, where can people find you on the internet if they’re interested in learning more from you? All that good stuff?

Charles Van Rees 

Well, my my general, like professional website is vanReesconservation.com, that has links to all sorts of great podcasts, like K9Conservationists that I’ve been on, it will hopefully soon have links to my TEDxTalk, which you can find on YouTube by just Googling or looking up, TEDx, and my name. And my nature blog is Guloinnature.com. And, and yeah, people can find me on social media and stuff, too, just by searching my name. And I look forward to chatting with folks.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 

Thank you for coming back on the podcast. It’s always a pleasure. We’re going to have a couple more of these coming out soon, hopefully. So everyone will get to learn a lot more from Charles as I asked him all of my silly questions as well. And for everyone at home. Thank you so much for listening. We hope you learned a lot and you’re feeling inspired to get outside and be a canine conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and your skill set. You can find show notes, donate canine conservationists join Patreon, buy stickers, it find the links, all of that stuff over at k9conservationists.org. We will be back here next week.