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Why Invasive Insect Species are a big problem

Updated on: September 27, 2023

New Jersey, like many other parts of the U.S., is home to a variety of invasive insect species. These species have either been accidentally introduced or have naturally spread to New Jersey and have become established, causing ecological, economic, or health concerns. Some of the notable invasive insect species in New Jersey include:

  1. Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula): Native to Asia, this insect has raised significant concerns due to its potential to damage various plants, including important crops like grapes.
  2. Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Halyomorpha halys): Originating from East Asia, this bug is a nuisance to homeowners and can cause significant damage to fruit, vegetable, and ornamental crops.
  3. Asian Longhorned Beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis): This invasive beetle, originally from Asia, targets and kills a variety of hardwood trees.
  4. Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis): Native to East Asia, this beetle has caused the death of millions of ash trees across the U.S., including in New Jersey.
  5. Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar): While it has been in the U.S. for over a century, it continues to be a concern due to its defoliation of hardwood trees.
  6. Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus): Originally from Southeast Asia, this mosquito is a concern due to its ability to transmit various diseases.
  7. European Paper Wasp (Polistes dominula): This wasp can displace native species and is a nuisance to humans.
  8. European Fire Ant (Myrmica rubra): An aggressive ant species that can deliver painful stings and displace native ant species.
  9. Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (Adelges tsugae): Native to Asia, this tiny pest targets and kills hemlock trees.
  10. Pine Shoot Beetle (Tomicus piniperda): Originating from Europe, this beetle affects pine trees by boring into shoots.
  11. Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica): Introduced from Japan, this beetle feeds on a wide variety of plants, damaging leaves, flowers, and fruit.

New Jersey officials and researchers regularly monitor and manage these and other invasive species to reduce their impact on native ecosystems, agriculture, and urban areas. Efforts include public education campaigns, control measures, and research on more effective ways to combat these invaders.

Why are invasive insects a major problem?

Invasive insect species can have profound and sometimes cascading effects on ecosystems. Their impacts can be direct or indirect, and they can influence various ecosystem components, including plants, animals, and even the physical environment. Here are some ways invasive insect species can damage ecosystems:

  1. Reduction in Biodiversity: Invasive insects can outcompete or directly prey on native species, leading to a decline or even extinction of native species. As a result, the overall biodiversity of an ecosystem may decrease.
  2. Alteration of Habitats: Some invasive insects, such as certain types of ants, can modify habitats by introducing new structures, like nests, or by altering soil properties. This can make habitats less suitable for native species.
  3. Impact on Native Fauna: Invasive insects can prey on or compete with native insects and other small animals. For instance, invasive ants can reduce populations of native ants and other arthropods, impacting the food chain.
  4. Impact on Native Flora: Herbivorous invasive insects can defoliate or otherwise damage native plants, reducing their health or killing them outright. This can lead to a decrease in native plant populations and an increase in invasive plants that might be more resistant to the new insect.
  5. Disruption of Ecosystem Processes: By altering the abundance and distribution of key species, invasive insects can disrupt crucial ecosystem processes like decomposition, nutrient cycling, and pollination.
  6. Economic Damage: Invasive insects can impact human-made ecosystems, such as agricultural systems, leading to economic losses. While this is a human-centric consequence, it often leads to reactive measures, like increased pesticide use, which can further harm the ecosystem.
  7. Disease Vectors: Some invasive insects can introduce or spread diseases that affect native plants or animals. For instance, mosquitoes like Aedes aegypti can introduce and spread diseases such as Zika, dengue, and chikungunya in regions where these diseases were not previously common.
  8. Alteration of Fire Regimes: Certain invasive insects can impact native plants in a way that increases the amount of dry, dead plant material in an ecosystem, elevating the risk of fires.
  9. Cascading Effects: The impacts of invasive insects can lead to cascading effects throughout an ecosystem. For instance, if an invasive insect reduces the number of a particular plant, animals that rely on that plant might also decrease, affecting their predators in turn.
  10. Loss of Aesthetic and Cultural Value: From a human perspective, changes in ecosystems due to invasive species can reduce the aesthetic, cultural, and even spiritual values associated with native ecosystems.

Given the wide-ranging impacts of invasive insect species, there's a significant emphasis on studying, monitoring, and controlling their spread. Efforts often involve both preventive measures (like inspections and quarantines) and reactive measures (like eradication campaigns) to manage their impacts on ecosystems.


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