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Sightings nationwide should now be reported online to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Program, called the NAS, or directly to state government natural resource agencies.
The public has been able to report sightings to the USGS and state agencies for some time, but with the discontinuation of a federal reporting Aquatic Nuisance Species hotline late last year researchers are trying to get the word out on the updated reporting system and the continued importance of reporting sightings.
“Sixty-seven percent of the invasive species alerts in the past five years have been based on information reported by the public,” said Pam Fuller, a fish biologist with USGS and the leader of the NAS Program. “We rely on the public to gather much of our data on aquatic invasive species. We depend on them to be our ‘early detectors.’ When you combine the information we receive from reported sightings with information we pull from other sources, we’re able to provide a national picture of species distribution.”
For 19 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force operated a 24-hour phone hotline available to report sightings. In recent years, the line was seldom used, with sightings being more often than not reported via email, prompting the change in process. Scientists say reporting sightings is still very important, and very easy.
“New occurrences of non-native aquatic species are occurring more frequently than people think,” said Fuller. “In the past 12 months, we’ve seen 110 new occurrences. This includes both new species, as well as species we’ve already seen that are just in new locations. Identifying where these species are being seen can help us predict which regions may be susceptible to invasion, and can help prioritize management needs.”
The nearly four-decade old NAS database monitors, analyzes, and records non-native aquatic animals, including mussels, snails, crayfish, turtles, frogs, and fish, and now, aquatic plants, to give a more comprehensive understanding of the occurrence of non-native and invasive species in the United States. The database is freely accessible to the public, allowing users to view current distributions, search for particular regions and species, and report sightings of non-native and invasive aquatic species. Information from the data is used to generate scientific reports, real-time online queries, spatial data sets, regional contact lists, fact sheets and occurrence alerts.
In 2004, an alert function was added to the system to send out alerts to users anytime a new species was introduced into an area. The system offers timely information to environmental managers to help them prioritize and initiate monitoring and management actions.
The NAS program monitors nonindigenous species, also known as non-native species or species not historically found in an area, as well as invasive species. A non-native species is not necessarily invasive; however, once a population is able to sustain itself it is considered invasive.
The NAS program works with state and federal natural resource agencies to gather information on non-native and invasive aquatic species, and works with other partners to develop tools, including integrated reporting and filtered website views.
“There have been numerous instances when a species was reported to us and we notified the state biologists who went out to investigate,” said Fuller. “Sometimes the reports turn out to be new introductions, and sometimes they are misidentifications. But when in doubt – report it.”
To report the sighting of an invasive or non-native aquatic species, please visit: www.usgs.gov/stopans.