Experimenting With a Global Warming Garden

  • Todd Forrest at the New York Botanical Garden's Ladies Border Garden. (Photo by Brad Linder)

When you think about global warming, you probably think about polar ice caps
melting and rising sea levels. But climate change is also having a more immediate
effect — on gardeners. As average temperatures rise, many gardeners are finding
they can grow non-native plants in their back yards. Brad Linder visited one public
garden that’s been nicknamed “the global warming garden”:

Transcript

When you think about global warming, you probably think about polar ice caps
melting and rising sea levels. But climate change is also having a more immediate
effect — on gardeners. As average temperatures rise, many gardeners are finding
they can grow non-native plants in their back yards. Brad Linder visited one public
garden that’s been nicknamed “the global warming garden”:


Most gardeners know there are some plants they’ll never be able to grow, because
of the climate where they live. But the Earth’s climate is changing, and that means
plants that normally grow in the southern United States are thriving as far north as
New York City:


“This Japanese Flowering Apricot, prunus mume. This is a plant that’s widely
grown further south. It’s actually native originally to China, but it’s beloved in Japan.”



Todd Forrest is vice president for horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden:


“And so what we’ve found with climate change is that this plant survives, because
the winter temperatures are on average warmer. But because there’s variability in
our local climate, it will often have its flowers burned by frost.”



Forrest is walking through the Ladies Border Garden, an experimental section of the
Botanical Garden designed to demonstrate the impact of climate change on plants.
Forrest sometimes calls the Ladies Border “the global warming garden,” because
most of the plants are species that couldn’t have grown in this area a few decades
ago.


Climate change probably has been affecting plants and gardeners for years. But
Forrest says it’s only recently that people have put two and two together and realized
that unpredictable weather patterns are affecting their herb gardens:


“Gardeners at times suffer the sort of head in the sand syndrome. They’re so
obsessed with and attuned to their individual garden and climate. And we’re all used
to being frustrated by the weather. I think for a long time we all just sort of ascribed
whatever change there was or variability to that darn weather again. Acting up.
Raining when it should be dry. Dry when it should be raining. Cold when it should be
warm.”


In some ways, the Ladies Border Garden shows how exciting global warming can
be for gardeners. You can grow all sorts of exotic plants in your backyard if you don’t
have to deal with the long cold winters you’re used to.


Forrest has been able to get dozens of unusual plants to grow in New York, including
Choysia and even a Himalayan Fan Palm. That’s right, a palm tree growing in New
York City.


But just because you can grow non-native plants doesn’t mean you should. Because
foreign plants can easily become invasive species, killing off local plants.
Marielle Anzelone is a botanist and garden designer. Her specialty is working with
local plants. Today she’s planting a native-species garden in a public park:



“All the plants are going to have little signs in front of them that say what they are,
because it’s meant to be educational. People should see a plant, say oh, it’s
gorgeous. Want it. Oh, it’s vibernum nutem. And then run out to their nursery
and get it.”


Anzelone says many people don’t realize how beautiful local plants are. For
example, she says people often buy wreaths made of Asiatic Bittersweet vines —
even though it’s an invasive species that’s been killing off American Bittersweet:


“And people maybe then who hang the wreath outside on their door. A bird comes
and eats the berries and poops it out in Prospect Park or Central Park. I mean, that
is how these things get around. So it’s not just your world in a vacuum and nothing
comes to your garden. I mean, birds travel, insects travel.”


That’s why, under normal circumstances, gardeners have to be careful what they
plant in their backyards. Because non-native plants have a way of spreading and
competing with local plants, and climate change complicates things by making it
easier for invasive species to spread:


“The thing that keeps me up at night is not global warming. It’s extinction crisis. And I
think people think a lot about extinction as being this big dramatic thing. It’s a fire, it’s
an oil spill. But actually it doesn’t work that way. Extinction happens on a small scale
all the time.”



As the climate changes, Anzelone says she understands that gardeners will want to
try new things. But she says they shouldn’t forget about native plants, which feed
native insects and animals.


The New York Botanical Garden’s Todd Forrest admits that the Ladies Border
Garden is both exciting and disturbing. While he can demonstrate that new plants
will grow in New York, he knows that global warming is also killing off plants that
have lived here for thousands of years.


For the Environment Report, I’m Brad Linder.

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Audubon Society Cheers Congress for Bird Law

  • The European Starling, an invasive species, has been pushing woodpeckers out of their nests and preventing them from breeding. The Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act will help reduce populations of non-native bird species. (Photo by Louis Rock)

The National Audubon Society is praising Congress for strengthening protections for American migratory birds. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:

Transcript

The National Audubon Society is praising Congress for strengthening protections for American migratory birds. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:


The U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed in 1917 to protect native birds, such as the woodpecker, the Baltimore Oriole, and the American Black Duck. But a court ruling earlier this year changed the law, by extending protections to all birds, including non-native species. National Audubon Society spokesman John Bianchi says invasive species like the European Starling are pushing out native birds.


“That is hard for people to understand, but the equation there is that pushing out means killing. A European Starling pushing a woodpecker out of its nest means that that woodpecker will not breed that year.”


As part of a recent spending bill, Congress amended the law to once again only protect native migratory birds. That provides millions of dollars a year for protection efforts, which can include trapping and removing non-native birds, or killing them.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.

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Common Pesticide Found to Harm Frogs

The most commonly used pesticide on farms might be causing frog populations to decline. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham explains:

Transcript

The most commonly used pesticide on farms might be causing frog populations to decline. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham explains:

A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that Atrazine affects the sexual development of certain non-native laboratory frogs. The peer-reviewed study shows that in levels of Atrazine far below what’s commonly found in water, even rainwater, in agricultural areas, sexual development of males is impaired. The study’s principal author, Tyrone Hayes, says new studies, not yet peer reviewed, also indicate the same thing is happening in native frogs in the lab and in the wild.

“We do have reason to believe that the effects are
observed in other species at similar doses, and
we do have reason to believe that similar abnormalities detected in the wild are associated with Atrazine exposure.”

The researchers say their studies don’t explore whether the Atrazine exposure has any effect on humans.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Invasive Beetle Swarms the Region

The Great Lakes region has been invaded by another non-native species. But this one may be more beneficial than it is a nuisance. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports on the Asian ladybird beetle:

Transcript

The Great Lakes region has been invaded by another non-native species. But this one may be more beneficial than it is a nuisance. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports on the Asian ladybird beetle.


They’re everywhere, it seems: landing on us and pacing up and down the windows of our homes. The ladybug look-alikes were first introduced in the South. And they’ve since moved north. Tom Ellis is an entomologist at Michigan State University.


“All throughout the year they’ve been doing good things. They’ve been feeding on insects that suck plant juices and damage plants, especially plants of agricultural interest, and during the fall they migrate into areas where’re they’re looking for cavities to hibernate in, and as people see, they do this in large numbers.”


The bugs main prey is aphids and last year’s healthy aphid population means a lot of beetles too. The beetles are probably here to stay and there may be even more of them next year. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tracy Samilton.

Black Carp Introduction Gets Hooked

States in the Mississippi river basin are protesting a decision by the state of Mississippi to allow a foreign fish to be introduced tocontrol a pest. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports… the other states are concerned the fish will escape into the wild and damage the environment:

Transcript

States in the Mississippi River Basin are protesting a decision by the state of Mississippi to

allow a foreign fish to be introduced to control a pest. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester

Graham reports the other states are concerned the fish will escape into the wild and damage the

environment:


If you buy a package of catfish filets at the supermarket or order blackened catfish at your

favorite restaurant, chances are that fish was raised in a farm pond in Mississippi. The state of

Mississippi supplies almost three-fourths of the world’s commercial catfish. It’s a two-billion

dollar a year business, coming in only after cotton and timber as one of Mississippi’s largest

industries.


In recent years, Mississippi farmers have been struggling with a parasite that’s attacking the

catfish. Jimmy Avery is a researcher with the National Warmwater Aquaculture Center at Mississippi

State University. He says the parasite is causing quite a bit of damage.


“It’s either killing these fish outright or it’s stressing them to the point they no longer grow.”


Avery says the parasite makes its home in snails. To get rid of the snails, the Mississippi

Department of Agriculture and commerce has approved introducing an Asian fish called the black

carp. The black carp eats snails and mussels. But, other states are worried that the black carp

will escape the farm ponds and get into the wild. Avery says that’s not likely…


“The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce has decided that through the permit

process, we can minimize this. They’ll know where every black carp is located. They’ll know what

kinds of system they’ve been put in and it felt like that those regulations that had been put in

place are strong enough to prevent that.”


But the State of Missisippi’s assurances don’t convince others. Roger Klosek is the Director of

Conservation at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. He studies native mussels.


“If black carp are used to deal with the snail problem, eventually they’ll escape into the main

waterways, and start reproducing. And once they do that, they’ll start feeding on the native

mussel fauna which is one of the last remaining native mussel faunas in the United States and

literally wipe it out.”


Klosek says native mussel populations have already been hurt by another exotic species, the zebra

mussel. He believes the black carp would be the last straw for American freshwater mussels.


“So, somebody’s going to lose and it’s probably better – I know the catfish farmers will hate me

for saying this, but – it’s probably better that they lose a little economically rather than

reduce some of the native fauna to an irretrievable state.”


Some states’ officials agree with Klosek. Bill Bertrand works with the Illinois Department of

Natural Resources fisheries office. He says there’s a history of Asian carp getting loose. The

silver carp, the bighead carp, and the grass carp have already escaped from farm ponds, mostly

from Arkansas where there are few regulations.


“There’s a history of these exotics, imports, escaping into the river system, spreading throughout

the entire river basin system and causing impacts on all the other states in the system. And

Mississippi appears to tend to ignore that fact and go ahead their own merry way, saying ‘Well

we’re doing this because we want to do it and it’s beneficial to us.'”


Bertrand says governors of some of the states along the Mississippi River have sent letters to the

Governor of the State of Mississippi, asking him to stop the use of black carp. Several of the

states intend to ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ban the importation of the fish. The

federal agency has not yet received that request… but even if the Fish and Wildlife service

found a ban was appropriate, it would take several months to go through the process. Even then, a

ban would not apply to black carp already in the U.S.


Mike Oetker is a fisheries biologist with the Fish and Wildlife service. He says the agency is

trying to play the role of mediator.


“Right now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to work with states and the industry to

try to prevent the problem of the possible release or accidental release of black carp into the

environment. There are several alternatives to black carp where we can use native fish such as the

red ear sunfish or freshwater drum or even big mouth buffalo to do the same type of biological

control that the black carp are doing. And that would give of the ability to kind of circumvent

this problem.”


The catfish farmers in the State of Mississippi say the native fish don’t eat the snails as

quickly as the black carp. The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce says it will ask

farmers to use chemical treatments first and where native fish will work, they’ll try to use them.

but in the end, the Mississippi agency says it will allow catfish farmers to use black carp when

it appears other methods don’t work.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.


Bird Decline Tied to Exotics

According to the National Audobon Society, some species of
songbirds have experienced a 30 percent decline in their population
over
the past decade. Now, there’s evidence that non-native plant species
may
be contributing to the problem. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Karen Kelly reports:

Transcript

According to the National Audubon Society, some species of songbirds have experienced

a thirty percent decline in their population over the past decade. Now, there’s

evidence that non-native plant species might be contributing to the problem. The Great

Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports:


American robins and wood thrushes like to build their nests in shrubs. Typically, they

choose tall bushes with long thorns that keep predators away. But as those plants are

replaced by non-native species, the birds are forced to move into the new shrubs. And

that makes them vulnerable to predators.


Christopher Whalen is an avian ecologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey. His

study found birds that nest in exotic shrubs were twenty percent more likely to lose

their eggs to a predator.


Because of the different way these plants grow, the exotic shrubs provide a

suitable-looking confluence of branches at a lower height above the ground. So, nest

height drops a meter and a half to two meters on average.”


That makes it easier for raccoons to invade. Whalen’s study focused on Illinois, but

he says birds are doing this throughout the Northeast and Midwest.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.

Success in Controlling the Lamprey

  • Sea lampreys feed on a lake trout. The invasive species damages the Great Lakes fishery. (photo courtesy Great Lakes Fishery Commission)

A new effort to eradicate the sea lamprey is attacking one major
trouble spot. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham
reports… the parasite is being trapped and poisoned:

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