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Invasives Strike Force EcoQuest Challenge 2020

*****PROGRAM NOTE: THE INVASIVES STRIKE FORCE ECOQUEST PROGRAM IS TEMPORARILY SUSPENDED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE DUE TO SOCIAL DISTANCING CONCERNS AND THE CLOSURES OF MANY OF OUR REGIONAL PARKS. WE WILL NOTIFY ALL PARTICIPANTS ONCE SURVEYING ACTIVITIES HAVE RESUMED.****

Welcome to Lower Hudson PRISM's Invasives Strike Force EcoQuest Survey page!!!

Do you love being outdoors and searching for interesting critters and plants in nature? Or maybe you love taking photos when you are out hiking or gardening? Or maybe you just love scavenger hunts! Our EcoQuest surveys allow you to become a part of the action and help us document invasive species in our region while having fun in the process! To become an EcoQuest surveyor, all you need to do is download an easy- to-use mobile app, iNaturalist, and register here for further instructions. Once iNaturalist is downloaded, you can immediately start photographing and uploading pictures, instantly connecting you to thousands of other citizen scientists just like you!

To help you build up your knowledge of invasive species in our region, we offer a monthly challenge which keys in on (a) focal invasive species (and sometimes a native plant counterpart). Each month, Lower Hudson PRISM staff will announce a new scavenger hunt-style challenge to find and document an invasive plant or animal (and their native counterpart!) by taking and sharing photos via iNaturalist. See below for this March's Less of Lesser is Better! challenge, instructions and other past challenges. While you do not have to join our specific project to participate in the challenge, we HIGHLY encourage you to do so. Search for us, Invasives Strike Force EcoQuest , on iNaturalist and join today to upload your photos directly to our project! Become an official member of our team today!


Less of Lesser is Better! : March 2020

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March's EcoQuest challenge focuses on an invasive plant from Europe and western Asia that is spreading rapidly throughout southeastern New York, including New York City and northern New Jersey: lesser celandine, Ficaria verna (also called the fig buttercup). See below for more information on what to look for! Happy hunting!

SPECIES INFORMATION

LESSER CELANDINE, Ficaria verna

Photo courtesy of Linda Rohleder, LH-PRISM

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The dense leaves of lesser celandine are kidney-shaped and glossy. Photo credit: https://www.nwcb.wa.gov/

At first glance, lesser celandine is a delight to our winter-weary eyes with its bright yellow, sunray-style petals (usually 8-12 per flower). However, its early emergence and rapid growth lead to dense mats being formed that crowd out and outcompete natives such as yellow trout lily, violets and spring beauty! You may notice the dense leaf mats before the yellow flower blooms (for scale, the leaves are around the size of your thumbprint this time of year). The leaf mats of lesser celandine are much glossier and hug the ground more than garlic mustard rosettes (another invasive green ground cover plant you may be seeing out while hiking). Let's search for this pesky invasive together!

Keep a close lookout for lesser celandine mats next time you are outside and post your photos to iNaturalist to help us track their distributions in our region! Don’t forget that you can also use the Seek app (which can help with your initial ID in real time!) if you’d like a little more of a confidence boost in your ID skills prior to posting the picture to the iNaturalist app. Sometimes this dual method helps alleviate some of the guesswork associated with initial picture angles and photo distances when photographing on the iNaturalist app.        


I want in! How do I get started?

1. Download the iNaturalist App by visiting your phone's app store, or register to use it on iNaturalist.org. 

2. Visit iNaturalist's Video Tutorial page which has very clear step by step instructions on how to photograph your target species and upload to the iNaturalist database

 3. Sign-up at here so you receive notice of each month's species.

3. Take photos of this month's EcoQuest challenge target specie(s) by using the iNaturalist app directly (note: this is the easiest way to take and upload photos since your location can automatically be part of your observation)

OR 

Take photos of the target specie(s) on your smart phone, then later upload them to the iNaturalist site on your computer. 

4. You can either add photos directly to our iNaturalist project Invasives Strike Force EcoQuest or simply upload your photos to the overall iNaturalist database. Our curators will then sort through the posts and add any invasives you found to our project!

5. Keep searching! Your photos will be used to help scientists track the spread of invasives in our region. It's important stuff!

This is fun! How do I stay informed of each month's challenge?

It's simple! Once you've downloaded iNaturalist and signed up for the project, you will receive notifications from iNaturalist about the next month's challenge as the date approaches! If you have any questions or problems, just shoot an email to LH-PRISM's Invasive Species Citizen Science Coordinator, Brent Boscarino, at brent@nynjtc.org and he will be happy to help!

Please also visit the NYBG EcoFlora page to learn more about their history of EcoQuest challenges in New York City.


FORMER 2020 Challenges

Vigorous Vines!, February 2020 -  Japanese Honeysuckle and Chocolate Vine

The ability of an invasive plant to stay greener longer into the growing season can confer a competitive advantage over its native plant counterparts. This month’s EcoQuest challenge will focus on two species of evergreen or semi-evergreen vines, Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica, and chocolate vine, Akebia quinata. Both chocolate vine and Japanese honeysuckle can photosynthesize at temperatures just above freezing and continue growing (albeit slowly) throughout the winter, long after other native vines and low-lying native species have lost their leaves. This ability helps provide a tremendous jumpstart on other native species in the spring.  Vines, in general, make formidable invaders because they use other (usually native) plants for support to reach sunlight and thus do not have to dedicate lots of resources towards strong sturdy stems and deep root systems to keep them upright. This enables them to dedicate more energy towards growth and they can quickly blanket underlying shrubs and/or the forest floor, stealing essential nutrients from the native species they are smothering. Click here for a great article from the Maryland Invasive Species Council on exotic vines and their impacts on eastern US forest ecosystems.

Japanese honeysuckle 

Japanese honeysuckle has opposite leaf leaf structure and sweet smelling flowers that bloom in late spring/early summer (above). Photo credit: imgur.com

Japanese honeysuckle is unique in that it is equally formidable as a climbing vine that twines around trees and blankets low-lying shrubs, but also as a vine that can sprawl across the forest floor. It is best distinguished at this time of year by its opposite leaves which are mostly simple and smooth-edged, usually with a blunt pointed tip. To many of our Invasives Strike Force volunteers, the opposite, oval rounded leaves remind them of airplane propellers or rounded bowties. Japanese honeysuckle most commonly invades more open-canopy portions of the forest, field edges, disturbed areas, and roadsides and can spread both vegetatively and by seed. For a good look at what the vine looks like at this time of year, click here! For a quick ID summary guide, please check out this fact sheet from UNH extension

Chocolate Vine

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Chocolate vine's distinctive ID characteristic are its oval-shaped leaflets (clustered in fives). Photo credits: invasive.org and plantwhacker.com, respectively 

Chocolate vine is less common in our region than Japanese honeysuckle but can be just as vigorous of a grower and ecosystem disrupter. Its main distinguishing features are its glossy dark green leaflets that are oval-shaped and grow in clusters of five each with a slight notch at the tip (hence its other common name, five-leaf akebia). While growers have historically enjoyed cultivating chocolate vine in gardens due to the pleasant chocolate scent of its flowers that bloom in early spring, when it escapes into natural areas it quickly overtakes native ground cover species. Chocolate vine is capable of climbing into the shrub and tree layers, starving native species of sunlight and nutrients. It can grow as quickly as 40 feet in one growing season!

Winter Warriors!, January 2020 -  Native Spotted Wintergreen and Invasive Winter Creeper

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While many leafy plants lose their green color in the winter months, there are still several native (and invasive!) evergreen plants that can still be spotted in the forest at this time of year. This month’s challenge will focus on two species of "winter-named" broadleaf evergreen plants that you may find in the forest understory this winter: the invasive winter creeper (Euonymous fortunei), and the native spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata).

Winter creeper

Winter creeper, or creeping Euonymous, was originally introduced into North America as a quick-growing, ornamental ground cover plant in the early 1900’s but quickly spread into our natural areas and parks!  Leaves of winter creeper are thick, glossy and opposite, with silvery veins and finely-toothed margins (leaves are usually anywhere from 1 to 2 1/2 inches long). In natural areas, it can quickly form dense mats that smother native vegetation and leach nutrients and water from the forest soil. It can also grow as a climbing vine or small shrub under certain environmental conditions. For more information, please read this factsheet from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Winter creeper can form dense mats which can smother underlying native vegetation on the forest floor and is also capable of climbing up trees and shrubs where it can outcompete native plants for vital nutrients. Photo credits: https://www.tnipc.org and https://theoec.org

Spotted Wintergreen

Spotted wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata, is a native perennial evergreen herb that you may see popping up through the leaf litter at this time of year. Don’t be fooled by its name – its glossy, toothed leaves are NOT spotted, but actually feature a distinct white stripe down the center (it was originally designated as “spotted” wintergreen due to the red spots on its buds which appear in early spring). Interestingly the latin genus Chimaphila roughly translates into “Winter Love”! For more detailed info. on this species, please visit this blogpost from The Natural Web.

Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata)

Spotted wintergreen among the leaf litter. Photo credit: https://the-natural-web.org

Keep a close lookout for these winter warriors that may be peeking through the leaf litter next time you are outside and post your photos to iNaturalist to help us track their distributions in our region! Don’t forget that you can also use the Seek app (which can help with your initial ID in real time!) if you’d like a little more of a confidence boost in your ID skills prior to posting the picture to the iNaturalist app. Sometimes this dual method helps alleviate some of the guesswork associated with initial picture angles and photo distances when photograpjing on the iNaturalist app.