Issue 4: March 2023

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A Message from the ISWG Director

Welcome to the VT Invasive Species Working Group spring inVAsion newsletter! A lot has happened since our last correspondence that I am delighted to share with you. First off, we are delighted to welcome many new members to our steering committee: Haldre Rogers (FWC), Luis Escobar (FWC), Mike Sorice (FREC), Meryl Mims (BIO), and Joe Drake (BIO). Check out their bios elsewhere in the newsletter. These folks have brought a lot of fresh ideas and energy to the ISWG and we are really excited about our next steps. 

Speaking of next steps, the ISWG was awarded a very competitive internal grant to position VT as a center of excellence in invasion science, policy, and management. We held an internal summit on February 10 to get a better sense of the ongoing invasion-related work on campus and scope our future - we had ~100 faculty, staff, students, and administrators from all across campus. It was super inspiring to see the good work and new collaborations on campus. We are working hard on the next phase of this process and will keep you updated as we want to partner with you and the groups across Virginia and the region to build strong partnerships.

As part of this growth the ISWG has organized more formally with me serving as Director and our core faculty and postdocs as the steering committee. The idea is that as we grow we need structure for organizational purposes. We will be adding additional structure internally (VT faculty, staff, students) and externally (you!) - stay tuned for more details in future newsletters as we want to work together! If you have any invasion-related content that you would like featured in a future newsletter please let me know - we are keen to feature successes, partnerships, grant opportunities, workshops, etc. to better inform our community. 


Jacob Barney

ISWG Updates

New members of the ISWG steering committee

Haldre Rogers joined the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in the fall semester of 2022. Rogers’s research explores the role of animals as pollinators, seed dispersers, and predators in forest systems. Her primary research program is in the Mariana Islands, where the invasive brown tree snake has caused the loss of nearly all forest birds from the island of Guam.

Luis E. Escobar (DVM, MSc, PhD) studies the environmental factors that explain the spread, endemicity, and emergence of infectious diseases. Escobar studies the impact of pathogens from invasive host species on native host species. His team develops analytical approaches to better reconstruct epidemics by analyzing pathogens as invasive organisms.  

Michael Sorice is an associate professor in the Department of Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation. His research focuses on environmental stewardship, with an emphasis on the role of natural resource users in protecting biodiversity and imperiled ecosystems.

Joe Drake is interested in the intersection of landscape connectivity and population dynamics, bringing conservation, management, and spatial ecological theory into more holistic approaches. His research spans work on species from bullfrogs to bighorn sheep intersecting local and global scales.

Meryl Mims is a conservation ecologist with a focus on freshwater ecosystems, from genes to the landscape. She uses population genomics, landscape ecology, and computer simulations to understand how invasive species and climate change interact to threaten aquatic species of conservation concern.

Invasive Species BioBlitz for New Town of Blacksburg Property

Written by Jordan Coscia

September 10th, 2022 saw over 50 volunteers on the hills of Brush Mountain, adjacent to Jefferson National Forest, on the search for invasive plant species. The event was co-organized by the Town of Blacksburg, the Invasive Species Working Group, and a team of graduate Interfaces of Global Change fellows: Jordan Coscia, Bailey Howell, Nic Bone, and Forde Upshur.

Despite the rainy weather, the volunteers made 1,088 observations using iNaturalist. They recorded 168 species of plants, animals, and fungi over two hours. These observations included 208 sightings of 9 different invasive species. The IGC graduate student team will use the locations and prevalence of these invasive species to create a guide to help the Town make management decisions as they develop the new property into a set of trails connecting the national forest to Gateway Park and beyond.

VT Summit on Invasive Species

On February 10th, 2023 the ISWG held a Summit on Invasive Species. Our goals were to 1) bring together faculty, staff, and graduate students currently engaged in or interested in invasive species research to identify new opportunities for collaboration, (2) expand the portfolio of VT researchers whose expertise intersects with invasion science, and (3) discuss how we can advance collaborative action on invasive species.

More than 70 members of the VT community took part in the summit, representing an array of affiliations across various university offices, institutes, and six distinct colleges. Led by our expert facilitator C. Meranda Flachs-Surmanek, attendees participated in a variety of exercises and activities to discuss the current status of invasive species work on campus and imagine future directions for the ISWG to support and uplift our growing network.


Science, Technology & Engineering in Policy (STEP) Program '23 Keynote

A Front-Row Seat to Policymaking

During a Global Pandemic

Dr. Linsey Marr,

Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech

1:00 PM EDT, Monday, 3 April 2023

Steger Hall Conference Center and via Zoom

Light reception to follow

Registration required

The COVID-19 pandemic brought significant and urgent attention to various areas of scientific research, including indoor air quality. Fortunately, leading scholars like Virginia Tech’s very own Dr. Linsey Marr were ready to respond, informing rapidly-evolving public policy decision-making. However, the science-policy interface is complicated, as divergent values, interests, and perspectives lead to very different interpretations of the available information and how it should be translated into decisions with wide implications. In this keynote, Dr. Marr will reflect upon her experiences managing the complexities of informing consequential policy decisions as an internationally-recognized and widely sought expert throughout the pandemic. 


March & April 2023

Invasive Species Workshop and Webinars for Tribal Audiences, hosted by Washington State University, WA Invasive Species Council, USDA APHIS, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

More information/Registration.

1:00 PM*, April 20, 2o23

Southeast RISCC Seminar Series

Plant Invasions in the Tropics: Lessons from the Caribbean

Julissa Rojas-Sandoval,

University of Connecticut

11:30 AM - 6:30 PM*, April 27

Invasive Snail and Slug Virtual Workshop, hosted by the WA Invasive Species Council and USDA APHIS-PPQ

Agenda and Registration

3:00 PM* , April 27

The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies' Invasive Species Committee will host ISWG member Dr. Emily Reed to provide a webinar on Invasive Species Policy and Biology: Patterns in Eastern US State Laws & Opportunities for an Integrative Database Using AI Technology.  Register here.

*Eastern Daylight Time

Local Events

Merging Conservation, Democracy, and Sustainable Development in Botswana

11:00 AM ET, Tuesday, March 21

Presented by His Excellency Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana

Commonwealth Ballroom,

Squires Student Center,

290 College Ave., Blacksburg

Science On Tap: Connecting Nature-based Education, Civic Engagement, and Biodiversity for Youth in Heritage Park

5:30 PM ET, Wednesday, April 26

Rising Silo Brewery

Hosted and presented by the VT Science Policy Education Advocacy Club (SPEAC), the Town of Blacksburg, and the New River Land Trust

Local Initiatives

Blacksburg City Nature Challenge

April 28 - May 1, 2023

The City Nature Challenge (CNC) is a friendly competition between cities all over the world to see which one could observe the most nature over four days. Residents are encouraged to participate and observe nature in their own back yards, utilizing the iNaturalist app to help identify different wildlife and plant species.

Virginia Invasive Mapping Initiative

Blue Ridge PRISM, VA Master Naturalists, VA Department of Conservation and Recreation – Natural Heritage, and EDDMapS

This initiative aims to collect data on the distribution and spread of potentially invasive plants in Virginia. Documenting species spread is essential for public policy, evaluation of environmental harm, public education, and management decisions of invasive plants. Anyone can collect and report invasive plants through the EDDMapS app on your phone to ensure that invasive plants are better documented in each Virginia county. NOTE: This is also a Virginia Master Naturalist approved project in Better Impact. Contact: Beth Mizell

New River Valley Tree Rescuers Program

A collaborative project of Sustainable Blacksburg and the Town of Blacksburg Office of Sustainability.

A mature tree has far greater benefits than a sapling for stormwater capture, carbon sequestration, cooling and other ecosystem services. NRV Tree Rescuers is taking action to protect our local trees from invasive, climbing vines that cause tree decline and eventual death. You can help in this important effort by rescuing trees on your own property and/or alerting other landowners to the problem.


New article from the ISWG:

Holistic valuation of non-native species requires broadening the tent

by ISWG members Emily Reed, Todd Schenk, Bryan Brown, Haldre Rogers, David Haak, Joe Drake, and Jacob Barney. Published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, we wrote this letter in response to the article Valuing the contributions of non-native species to people and nature (2022) by Sax et al.

From Global Change Center Affiliates

Simulating the response of a threatened amphibian to climate-induced reductions in breeding habitat. Mims et al. 2023, Landscape Ecology. Led by ISWG member Meryl Mims and co-authored by ISWG member Joe Drake.

Non-native plants observed in North America by 18th century naturalists. Copenheaver et al. 2023, Écoscience, co-authored by ISWG member Jacob Barney.

Ecosystem metabolism in sub-Antarctic streams and rivers impacted by non-native beaver. García et al. 2022, Aquatic Sciences and co-authored by GCC affiliate Erin Hotchkiss.

Toward Improved Understanding of Streamflow Effects on Freshwater Fishes. Freeman et al. 2022, Fisheries, co-authored by ISWG member Meryl Mims and GCC faculty affiliate Emmanuel Frimpong.

In the Media

Virginia Tech

Learn more about ISWG member Haldre Rogers and her research program! Listen to "The Silent Forests of Guam", an episode of the podcast Wild World with Scott Solomon.

Ph.D. student researches method that could stop invasive tree. Ray Meese for VTX. Featuring graduate student Tim Shively!

John Palmore leads project to deter carp with sound. Alex Parrish for VTX.


"The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources is selling shirts with various invasive species printed on them. The shirts look a lot like horror movie posters. Funds from the sale of the shirts go to conservation." George Noleff for 8News Roanoke

Outdoor Updates: New License Plate Benefits Blue Ridge Parkway + Invasive Species Awareness. Shannon McGowan for Blue Ridge Outdoors


Someone Called the Police on a Girl Catching Lanternflies. Then Yale Honored Her. Maya King for the New York Times

The Bighorn National Forest has changed plans for treating invasive species in response to objections. Hugh Cook for Wyoming Public Radio

A Silver Lining for Invasive Species.

US Geological Survey


Podcast: Traditional ecological knowledges and biodiversity

Pigs to the Rescue: An Invasive Species Helped Save Australia’s Crocodiles. Anthony Ham for the New York Times

The war on island invaders is more successful than you might think. Warren Cornwall for Anthropocene Magazine

Photo ID (from top to bottom): Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana); BioBlitz participant photo collage; American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus)

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The Invasive Species Working Group is a faculty collaborative within the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech supported by the Fralin Life Sciences Institute and the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost

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