You may have noticed in the past few years that more and more people are talking about invasive species and species-at-risk. What exactly are they and how can they impact you and Loughborough Lake? An invasive species is one that does not naturally occur in an area, and whose presence causes environmental, economic, and/or societal damage. With our ever growing global society, we are more connected than ever, but this also means that invasive species have many pathways to establish in our lakes, forests, and fields. Outdoor appreciation, exploring, birding, hunting, paddling, cottaging, and hiking with our pets are all great ways to fuel our outdoor passions, and enjoy Loughborough Lake, but we need to be responsible, and aware of the impact we have on the sensitive areas around us.
I’m going to describe a few of the invasive species found around Loughborough Lake, the problems they cause, and what you can do to help. Some aquatic invasive plant species to look for this summer are Common Frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae), and Common Reed (Phragmites australis).
Common Frogbit, also called European Frog-bit, is an aquatic invasive plant that has found its way into many of Ontario’s waterways. It is native to Europe, and parts of Asia and Africa, and was possibly brought here to be used as an ornamental plant in the early 1900s. Common Frogbit is usually found in areas of slow moving water and can form dense mats of vegetation that prevent sunlight from penetrating the water. These thick mats reduce biodiversity, prevent recreational use of waterways, and remove oxygen from the water which can impact fish populations. Common Frogbit produces a single white flower with three round petals and a yellow centre. The underside of the leaf is a purple/red colour.
Common Reed, also known as Phragmites, is regulated as restricted under the Invasive Species Act in the province of Ontario. This means it is against the law to buy, sell, trade, or grow Common Reed. You have probably seen this tall grass in ditches, and in wetlands, even if you haven’t heard of it. It is instantly recognizable by how tall it is – mature stands in the right conditions can be over five metres tall! It is an aggressive perennial grass that spreads rapidly. Common Reed releases toxins into the soil which prevent the growth of surrounding plants. Dense stands of Common Reed establish quickly, and provide poor habitat and food for wildlife, including species at risk like the Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii). It can establish in standing water, but can also survive in relatively dry areas allowing it to take over a variety of habitats. You can often find it in disturbed areas, such as in ditches on the side of the road. If you have been in an area with invasive Common Reed, please inspect, clean, and remove mud, seeds, and plant parts from vehicles, pets, equipment, and yourself.
Other notable invaders to the Loughborough Lake area include Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolate).
Buckthorn is a small tree that was introduced as an ornamental shrub, and was often planted in agricultural fields as windbreaks and fencerows. It can live in a wide range of soil and light conditions and often grows in dense stands, in open fields, or woodlands. Buckthorn is able to change the soil’s nitrogen levels, making it unfavourable for many other native species to grow. The trees keep their leaves late into the fall and are one of the first to produce leaves in the spring, making them easy to spot during these times of year. They have dark green leaves with fine teeth, with branches that end in a thorn, and produce clusters of black berries. Bird and other wildlife eat the berries and this acts as a dispersal mechanism when seeds are deposited in droppings. The berries act as a laxative, and have little nutritional value. If you have buckthorn on your property, it is recommended that it be cut down and replaced with native species.
Garlic Mustard is an invasive forest plant brought to North America as an edible herb. It is found in a range of habitats, including forests, riverbanks, and roadsides. Once Garlic
Mustard establishes, it can outcompete native wildflowers such as trilliums (Trillium sp.) and trout Lily (Erythronium americanum). In its first year (photo left, NCC), the plant produces a rosette of dark green, kidney-shaped leaves with scalloped edges. The second year’s growth (photo right, NCC) is much taller with triangular leaves. The second year plant produces small white flowers and long narrow seed pods that resemble green beans. Seeds of this
(continued) plant can remain viable in soil for up to 30 years. Garlic Mustard has a distinct garlic-smell which can be used to identify the plant when the leaves are crushed. Most small to medium sized patches of garlic mustard can be removed by manually pulling them out and disposing of them in a garbage bag. It’s important to never compost invasive species as you risk introducing them to new areas.
The species outlined above are some of the more aggressive invasive species you might encounter around Loughborough Lake. Unfortunately, they are not the only ones!
Invasive species are especially damaging to species-at-risk, since their survival is already pressured by external factors such as habitat loss or road mortality. By removing and preventing the spread of invasive species around Loughborough Lake, you are helping to improve habitat for many species-at-risk in Eastern Ontario including:
• Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis spiloides pop. 1)
• Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus)
• Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentine)
• Midland Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta marginata)
• Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina)
• Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens)
• Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)
• Eastern Whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferous)
• Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor)
This list represents only a small sample of the species that are in decline but there are steps you can take to promote their survival.
Learning how to identify invasive species is the first step towards preventing the spread. It is good practice to stay on trails and keep all pets on a leash when hiking. When travelling by boat, reduce your speed near areas with invasive species as this reduces the risk of accidently spreading them. Clean, drain, and dry your boats, paddles and any other equipment when you move from one body of water to another. Just because you do not see a problem, does not mean it isn’t there. Invasive seeds, or larvae could be hitching a ride to make their next unannounced debut.
At the Nature Conservancy of Canada, we manage over 11,000 ha (over 27,000 acres) of land in Eastern Ontario, with a special focus around Loughborough Lake. NCC has a strong commitment to stewarding this land, and one of the main components is keeping invasive species out of our natural areas. It’s everyone’s duty to recognize when invasive species have made their way into an ecosystem, and actively intervene before more damage is done. Once an invasive species has established, it’s difficult to get rid of it.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada hosts volunteer events where you can get involved in the protection of Loughborough Lake and other important natural areas. If you’re looking for a place to start and are wondering how you can directly have an impact, check out www.conservationvolunteers.ca for details on events happening across the country! You can also report sightings of invasive species to the Invading Species Hotline 1-800-563-7711.
It’s a team effort to ensure the survival of our iconic native plants and animals, but by educating yourself about the invasive, and at-risk species in the Loughborough Lake area, you are helping to keep your lake beautiful, natural, and wild for generations to come.
1. Common Frogbit photo by Christian Fischer, CC BY-SA 3.0.
2. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Invasive Species in Ontario. Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2012.
3. OFAH/OMNRF Invading Species Awareness Program, 2012.