Monday, August 27, 2012

Study tracks release of invasive species by science teachers

About a quarter of educators said they put plants and animals into the environment once the lesson is over

Published: August 10, 2012 12:00AM, Midnight, Aug. 10 

Science teachers who want their students to get up close and personal with the natural world may be unwittingly unleashing invasive species into the environment once class is over.

A recent survey conducted by Oregon State University researchers found that many science teachers who buy organisms from biological suppliers to use in the classroom release the critters rather than kill them when the science lesson is done.

About a quarter of teachers reported releasing live organisms, and 8 percent of those organisms were known to be invasive, so researchers estimate that just 2 percent of the releases are potentially invasive.

“But that adds up, school by school, year after year,” said Sam Chan, the OSU researcher who presented the study in Portland this week at the national meeting of the Ecological Society of America.

The problem also extends to teachers who keep fish, snakes, turtles and other animals as pets in the classroom to help students learn responsibility, he said.

OSU Sea Grant researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 teachers in Florida, New York, Indiana, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, California, Connecticut, British Columbia and Ontario. They also interviewed curriculum specialists and biological supply company owners and managers.

Chan, former chairman of the Oregon Invasive Species Council, said he began looking at the issue following a parent-teacher conference where he saw a notice of a “spring release party” planned for the crawfish that the students had been studying.

The crawfish in question is the “rusty crawfish,” native to the Ohio river basin and so invasive that its importation to Oregon has been outlawed.

Rusty crawfish displace native crawfish, reduce aquatic plant populations, and also can put a dent in the density and variety of invertebrates and even some fish populations, say researchers who have observed their spread through Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin.

To see them released by a school gave Chan pause.
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