Updated: Jan 27, 2019
Las Croabas is a Nature Reserve dry forest along the coast of Fajardo and is part of the 7 eco-systems in Puerto Rico.
The second-wind of Maria's destruction is now starting to reveal itself through the invasive species that Maria rooted in. It is now more important than ever to get a real handle on Puerto Rico's invasive species crisis that is killing off many native plants and animals.
Our team spent time cleaning up washed up trash and clearing pathways with machetes along the foot trails through Las Croabas that were overgrown by invasive specie plants caused by disbursed seedling from Hurricane Maria's wrath.
Puerto Rico is, as an island, particularly susceptible to destruction by invasive species. Invasive species are non-native animals or plants introduced to an ecosystem. Invasive species threaten the native species in an ecosystem, impacting the food chain and competing for habitat and other resources. They have the ability to reduce the biodiversity in an ecosystem when they compete with native specie After a hurricane like Maria, there typically is a spike in travel and movement of cargo that is shipped to the island. This becomes a common way that invasive species, as new plants and animals can be brought in by ships or planes. The containers may be in place for longer than usual and with less attention or control, this giving invasive species better opportunities to reach the Island.
On an island, a new life form may enter an empty environmental niche and have no predators or competitors to stop it. Harmful plants, animals, and insects (including those that spread tropical diseases) have caused problems in Puerto Rico already. After Hurricane Maria, the problem has escalated even more.
The Global Invasive Species database already lists 152 invasive species, this including the mosquito that carries yellow fever and a mongoose responsible for 70% of all cases of rabies on the Island.
We learned that when looking at Hurricane Maria in regards to the ecosystem, there are good and bad ramifications that result from her brutal landfall.
One of the examples our guide shared is that the hurricane may reduce the strength of invasive plants in the rain forest, but in return it could also give invasive reptiles the opportunity to increase population size. With no predators, invasive snakes and iguanas have already been a problem. Now, the time required for reforestation in Puerto Rico could make this situation worse.
What type of harm does an invasive species do?
Since invasive species are in a new environment, free from natural predators, parasites, or competitors, they often develop large population sizes very rapidly. These high populations can out-compete, displace or kill native species or can reduce wildlife food and habitat. Some also have the potential to disrupt vital ecosystem functions, such as water flow, nutrient cycling, or soil decomposition. Other invasive species cause massive amounts of economic damage to the agricultural business by destroying crops and contaminating produce.
From an ecological perspective, the ecosystem is damaged by invasive plants that do not help to hold soil in place, and by those that take important nutrients from other plants that are needed in the food chain. When an invasive plant takes over in a location, the animals which had relied on other plants in that region, will have to move elsewhere for their food, a clear indication of the negative impact on the food chain.
How Invasive Plant Species are hurting the native plants and causing more damage when hurricanes like Maria hit.
Flamboygan Trees, from Africa, can be found growing all across Puerto Rico’s mountain side. These tree’s grow shallow roots that aren’t meant for growing anywhere but flat lands. When hurricanes hit Puerto Rico, these shallow rooted trees are easily ripped up and tossed around, causing significant damage to everything around it. The damage doesn’t just start there. These trees also produce a lot of seeds that spread rapidly. Creating an on going cycle of damaging reproduction; depleting the soil of nutrients, killing off native species, and massive destruction through uprooting.
Invasive Trees and plants such as Morning glories, coco flowers, lotus trees. boom grass, and wild bean vines that are able to continue to reproduce and run wild will choke and strangle trees with their vines climbing and wrapping around until they overpower and kill any other competing plants in their way.
Hurricanes can help decrease the invasive species population in some cases, but the seeds of these plants are spread even more rapidly during this time. There is an urgency to take action once the seeds take root and break ground. When removing these types of invasive species you can not simply cut them because they will spread more. You have to pull them up from the root and make sure not to just chop the vine.
As the lower levels of the Forest warm due to urbanization in the buffer zone, weedier plants will increase throughout the Forest, as they can survive in different climates. This will further spread invasive plant species.
Hurricanes and flooding also move species around without human intervention. While this can be more of an issue on the mainland, the extensive damage and upheaval in Puerto Rico is likely to lead not only to physical movement of species across the island, but also to changes in the local environment that may give invasive species a chance to continue to thrive and reproduce in harmful ways.
Some invasive species are natural pests or disease vectors. Others threaten native species and the local habitat. Invasive snakes are known to damage electric power lines, and could increase the already severe problems Puerto Rico faces with utilities.
It’s hard to predict which invasive species might be introduced, or how they will affect the Island. Control of invasive species can be very difficult once a breeding population is established. This is a problem that must be addressed sooner rather than later.
Things to know about invasive species:
Invasive species, if left uncontrolled, can and will limit land use now and into the future.
The longer we ignore the problem the harder and more expensive the battle for control will become.
Invasive species can decrease your ability to enjoy hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, boating and other outdoor recreational activities.
The United States suffers from $1.1-120 billion per year in economic losses due to exotic, invasive species.1, 2
Approximately 42% of Threatened or Endangered species are at risk due to non-native, invasive species.
Check out all of the behind the scenes fun from our adventures of clearing out the island pathways of invasive species through Las Croabas Nature Reserve dry forest here! Chop and uproot too, of course!