BY PATRICK GALLOWAY
There is nothing as unique as DeLand, Florida. The “Athens of Florida” is home to Florida’s oldest private college, a sprawling Downtown district, multiple historical and cultural sites, and, to the trained eye, plenty of invasive nonnative species that cause considerable harm to our local ecosystem.
Take the camphor tree with its distinctive black berries and glossy leaves. You can find them growing across the Greater DeLand area and Central Florida. You are likely growing one right in your backyard without even realizing it.
The camphor tree — native to China, Japan, and many other Asian countries — grows rapidly and can adapt to most environments. Since its seeds also can be easily spread by birds who eat the berries, the tree can be found virtually everywhere, threatening native plant life by taking over their ecosystems. The Florida Jujube is one of those native plants. It’s a critically endangered shrub that bears beautiful green flowers and has spiky stems.
The tree’s berries are also toxic to humans and pets, such as cats and dogs. For infants and smaller children, the berries can be fatal, and in larger quantities, to adults, too.
Another nonnative species is the armored catfish found in our local Blue Spring. The armor refers to the bony plates that cover the catfish’s body. These fish are also easily identifiable due to their sucker mouths and can range from as small as 3 inches to over 2 feet in length.
Since the 1950s, these species of catfish have been spread across Florida due to South American aquarium trades, and, more recently, due to individuals setting them free after they grow larger than their fish tanks. In the spring of 1999, it was found that these catfish were now a local problem, making their way into the spring through the St. Johns River.
In a 2010 study by Stetson University professor Dr. Melissa Gibbs, she determined that armored catfish could attach themselves to the endangered Florida manatees in Blue Spring to eat algae epiphytes — an algae group that is eaten by small fish. Once attached, the manatees showed an increased level of activity, which may cause excess strain on them, leading to the possibility of death.
On top of endangering manatees, the catfish also threatens other local native species and causes environmental problems for the spring’s ecosystem. The catfish’s burrowing, for example, can cause erosion within the spring, and remove habitats and sources of food for native fish.
These invasive nonnative species pose a clear threat by destroying our local ecosystem. However, among the two invasive nonnative species discussed, an even greater problem presents itself.
The real problem is that you probably did not know what these invasive species are. You most likely have seen them before in DeLand, and simply passed them by, noting that the camphor tree had beautiful, glossy leaves, or that the armored catfish looked cool due to its bony body.
The lack of awareness of these species is the real threat, and if we continue to remain ignorant of these invasive nonnative species, DeLand and Florida’s ecosystems can and will be damaged beyond repair.
— Patrick Galloway is a first-year student at Stetson University, and a part of an honors program project: Invasive Species Education Program. The team’s purpose is to spread awareness regarding invasive nonnative species in the Greater DeLand area, in order to show the dangers that these species present. The ISEP will deliver a short program regarding its work with invasive nonnative species awareness at the Stetson University Showcase on April 11, 2023. More information is available online at www.stetson.edu/other/research/showcase.php