When you grow up the son of a grade school teacher you learn a lot of valuable life skills. You learn how to properly clean a blackboard, how to make homemade play dough, and how to properly care for the classroom pets every holiday and vacation. But classrooms have other “pets” as well. Many classrooms are filled with a whole host of plants and animals to teach students about the biological sciences. These plants and animals enter our classrooms through packaged science kits or from pet shops in conjunction with model curriculum developed for teachers. They are superb resources that help to engage students in the biological sciences, but the question arises: what do you do with these all these study organisms once the lesson is over? The gerbil may get a pass, but most teachers don’t care to tend to a bucket full of crayfish, or a box full of beetles, or an aquarium full of plants all summer.
Many teachers release organisms at the end of the year
As it turns out, a recent study presented by researchers from Oregon State University at the recent Ecological Society of America conference found that nearly a quarter of teachers release their study organisms into wild at the end of the year. Furthermore, they found nearly 1,000 different species were used in classrooms as model organisms and roughly 8% of these are recognized as invasive species.
A positive approach has been undertaken by Oregon Sea Grant by working with science kit suppliers and model curriculum developers to highlight the importance of preventing the introduction of invasive species. This also provides teachers an opportunity to talk about invasive species concerns and discuss with students ways to address this issue. A poster has been developed to inform teachers and to help initiate a conversation. Teachers can contact us to receive a free copy.
Invasive species move with people
Weeds and other invasives move with people. We introduce these weeds both intentionally and unintentionally, and facilitate their spread when we disturb our natural systems. Most surprising is that the majority of invasive species that we fight today were intentionally introduced. One study reported that 50% to 70% of invasives were intentional introductions. Looking at plant species it has been found that 82% of woody invasives are from horticultural introduction.
As a conservation organization, we share a history of this as well. The Soil Conservation Service and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts touted the benefits of many invasives over the years including Kudzu, Reed canary grass, and European beach grass before they were recognized as invasive. Fortunately, our understanding of the susceptibility of our natural systems has grown since the introduction of these invasives.
Invasives travel in surprising ways, but we are one of the most effective at spreading them. As a result, think about how you interact with your landscape. Do an inventory of your home. Can you find seeds on your pair of hiking boots? Did you clean and disinfect your waders from that last fishing trip? Can you find seeds attached to your car tires after that trip to the mountains? Have you recently traded a neighbor for a great new plant, without doing the research to ensure the plant is safe?
All is not lost!
There is a lot we can do to help stop the spread of invasives. Familiarize yourself with the invasive threatening your area. Prevent weeds and other invasives by minimizing disturbance and by cleaning clothing and equipment after working or playing in weedy areas. Report strange new weeds when they appear. Eradicate new infestations before they become widespread, and know when to seek help. The Clackamas County Soil and Water Conservation District can help you to combat these invaders.
We can thank our teachers for once again leading by example. They are learning from their oversight and are changing their practices to prevent new invasions. They have also provided a teachable moment for us all to learn. So thanks to all those teachers out there. Enjoy the rest of your summer vacation and don’t forget to feed the gerbil.
To learn more about the work by OSU with science teachers check out the following links!