Difficult Ecological Challenges – Invasive Species Cook-Off

  At a vineyard near Lane, Oregon, hungry guests gather for a buffet of bizarre delicacies: wild nettle croissants with mustard butter , fennel and blackberry ice cream, wine made with wild Queen Anne flowers… Welcome to the Institute of Applied Ecology’s annual Invasive Species Cook-Off.

  Andrew Esterson, director of the institute’s habitat restoration program, served an authentic Chilean dish in which he added an unexpected addition to the pork: the nutria, a semiaquatic rodent also known as Coypu. “Its flesh is actually lovely, deep purple,” Esterson said of the new protein. “If you put enough spices and peppers in any food, it can taste really good.” In fact, the food was delicious enough to win first place in the 2018 Invasive Species Cook-Off for Delicious Meat. But geographically, nutria (and the other dishes in the cook-off) shouldn’t be in the United States. Native to South America, the rodent was introduced to North America by fur farmers in the 20th century. By the time the international fur market collapsed in the 1980s, nutria had acquired a reputation as an insatiable pest—burrowing in irrigation facilities, spreading disease, and destroying waterfowl eggs and nests. Today, tens of thousands of non-native species thrive on U.S. land and waters. Nearly 6,500 of these are considered invasive, meaning they cause ecological or economic damage as they spread. These invaders, often lacking natural enemies to keep them in check, cause more environmental, health and economic damage each year than all other natural disasters combined. And it could get worse. As climate change warms parts of the world, some areas become more hospitable to invasive species, while expanding global trade perpetuates their spread.
  This daunting ecological challenge has sparked a special movement: cooking non-native plants and animals into delicious food and adding them to our menus. This campaign can reduce the number of invasive species while also inventing some interesting new foods. Many restaurants, food vendors and adventurous eaters have heeded the call and shared some tips.
garden snail

  Brown garden snails are native to the Mediterranean region and Western Europe. Now, however, the mollusk is one of the most widespread land snails in the world and is considered invasive in parts of the United States and Canada. In many cases, these snails were intentionally imported from Europe to be eaten and farmed. For example, French immigrants introduced snails as food to California in the 1850s. Just half a century later, many Californians consider brown snails a pest of citrus orchards. It also poses a major threat to grapes, garden flowers, grains and other agricultural products. To combat them, farmers have turned to poisoning and even predation—but this risks further harming the ecosystem.


  Pueraria is native to Asia, but was introduced to the United States as an ornamental plant at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. For much of the next century, farmers collectively planted the leafy plant to feed livestock and reduce soil erosion. Government agencies even funded the effort, providing more than 85 million seedlings, but their rapid growth rate is also potentially dangerous. Kudzu wipes out many native plant species, and even entire trees, by robbing native plants of sunlight. This deadly vine grows around 30cm per day at an astonishing rate. The species has so far been found in forests in 31 U.S. states, as far north as New York and as far away as Hawaii, according to a University of Georgia study.

  Cuisine For thousands of years, people from East and Southeast Asia have used its root, which accounts for 40% of the total number of plants, as a staple food and herbal medicine, known as “longevity powder” or “Asian ginseng”. As long as they haven’t been exposed to herbicides, add the leaves to soups or salads; pickle the grape-scented purple flowers or make them into jellies or syrups; or use arrowroot powder in your favorite soup Substitute for wheat flour.
feral domestic pig

  As can be seen from the name, this is a domesticated pig that has been returned to the wild for various reasons. Wild boars are native to Eurasia, but can now be found on every continent except Antarctica. The U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that in the 16th century, colonists introduced wild domestic pigs as a food source to Britain; in the early 20th century, they were introduced to the United States for private hunting, causing huge damage to American agriculture and posing a threat to human life. .
  At present, more than 200 species of wild domestic pigs have been found in the world. Many of these are extinct or endangered, and there are still significant numbers of wild boars in California and the southern United States, estimated at more than 6 million individuals. How did they survive? In the absence of natural enemies, these “wild boars” reproduce rapidly. They are omnivorous animals, with 85% to 90% of plant food as the main food, and some of them eat small animals, such as toads, turtles, turkeys, reptiles and birds, disrupting the food chain. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these pigs cause more than $1.5 billion in damage to U.S. prairie and forest ecosystems and crops every year.

  If you are not good at hunting, many physical stores and online stores offer this kind of wild pork, which is said to be tastier than domestic pork because it is leaner. It can be boiled in chowder or grilled.

  Lionfish are a voracious species, and their stomachs can expand to 30 times their usual size after a meal. Lionfish not only have a big appetite, they are also “greedy” when it comes to reproduction. They reproduce year-round, with an adult female laying about 2 million eggs a year, according to NOAA. Regardless of size, all lionfish have spines on their backs, pelvis, and abdomen that they use for defense. When a lionfish stings another creature, it uses pressure to expel the toxin from the venom glands on both sides of the spine and into the opponent’s body through the spines.

  While lionfish are known for their venom and flowing fins, they’re also notorious for their status as an invasive species. The lionfish “immigrated” from Brazil to New York and had no natural predators or parasites. The number reached 5 to 15 times the number of lionfish in the native waters of the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. They can wipe out local fish populations en masse. Rumor has it that the invasion began with an aquarium destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but NOAA says the lionfish invasion dates back to 1985 off the coast of South Florida.
  Hunting lionfish has become a recreational activity these days. Since 2010, the International Coral Reef Environmental Education Foundation has held an annual derby fishing competition in order to quickly remove lionfish from an area. Research shows that these efforts are paying off, and that a consistent reduction of lionfish in a given site is enough to increase the number of native fish populations. As the lionfish invasion continues, ways to fend off them are getting more creative. Lionfish are venomous, which means they release toxins through their spines. This property means lionfish can be safely caught, cooked and eaten as long as the pesky spines are avoided. To encourage seafood lovers to control their populations by eating lionfish, NOAA launched the “Eat the Lionfish” campaign.

  Food When
  cooking lionfish, the toxin-containing spines are removed, leaving only the light and flavorful fillets that can be stewed or grilled. Conservation biologist Joe Roman describes lionfish as an entry option for anyone interested in eating invasive species. Its firm white flesh is reminiscent of grouper and has a mild buttery flavor.

  Dandelion is a herbaceous perennial native to Europe and Asia and considered an invasive plant in gardens, lawns and meadows around the world. In North America, dandelions were introduced during European settlement. German botanist Leonhard Fox described it in the 16th century as a miracle remedy for gout, diarrhea, spleen and liver problems. Other benefits of consuming this plant include antioxidant activity, anti-inflammatory activity, and blood sugar regulation. Despite its nutritional value, dandelions can have some impact on local ecosystems and are now considered by many to be a very tenacious weed. The dandelion’s fluffy seeds can travel 97 kilometers by wind; once it has taken root, it’s very difficult to get rid of 30 to 50 centimeters of dandelion roots without spreading more seeds.

  Dandelion leaves can be eaten as a vegetable, and the bright yellow flowers can be made into dandelion tea, or steeped in oil. Even the root is edible and makes a delicious coffee-like drink.
northern hornet

  The northern hornet, also known as the “killer hornet”. It originated in parts of Southeast Asia and eastern Russia, and was first spotted in North America in 2022. A 2020 study by researchers at Tianjin Normal University and Washington State University found that, if left unchecked, large swaths of the Pacific Northwest could become prime territory for the northern hornet within the next 20 years. No one knows how they were introduced, but there is a concerted effort to keep it from spreading further. USDA allocated nearly $1 million in the 2021 budget for research and eradication of the northern giant hornet, and for good reason. 30 hornets can wipe out a colony of 30,000 bees in 4 hours. A 2020 study in Pest Management Science predicted that the invasive species could threaten as many as 100,000 bee colonies and cost the U.S. an estimated $114 million in hive-derived products and bee-pollinated crops.
  Food News that the
  killer hornet has invaded the United States may feel like something out of a horror movie, but the insect is considered a delicacy in Japan. People living in the central region of Japan are very fond of eating “killer hornet” – they hold a hornet food festival every year. Japanese people often steam the larvae of the northern giant hornet with rice to make a traditional dish. The chefs even put the northern bumblebee (stinger included) on the grill over hot charcoal.
green iguana

  The green iguana is native to Central and South America and parts of the Caribbean, and the pet trade is why it invaded Florida, Texas, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the early 2000s. Juvenile iguanas are often purchased as pets because of their small size, affordable price and low feeding costs. But these adorable critters won’t stay small forever and they can grow up to 180cm long. Green iguanas have a lifespan of more than 10 years and can lay 24 to 45 eggs every year. They are easy to reproduce in large numbers in the wild and bring havoc to crops. In South Florida, thousands of iguanas are breeding out of control, devouring the landscape, digging burrows and damaging sidewalks, canals and seawalls. Although they feed on grass, they also threaten endangered species such as tree snails and Miami blue butterflies. In Puerto Rico, they have even taken over sunny airport runways, causing delays and even damage to aircraft.

  Eating iguanas is nothing new. People in South and Central America have been eating native iguanas since pre-colonial times. In Florida, you don’t need a permit to kill lizards. If you want to try it, skin the iguana and boil it in salted water for half an hour, grilled or stewed according to your taste. Experts say that iguana meat has 24% more protein than chicken and tastes sweeter than chicken.
american bullfrog

  The American bullfrog is native to lakes, ponds, and wetlands in eastern North America. West of the Rocky Mountains, and in parts of Central and South America, Western Europe and Asia, the species is considered invasive. There, bullfrogs eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths: insects, crustaceans, fish, birds, reptiles, and even other amphibians. As early as the first century AD, frog legs were commonly eaten in southern my country. On the other side of the world, the Aztecs also ate frog legs. In Europe, the first mention of the food was in the French Catholic Church in the 12th century, when starving monks mistook the amphibian for fish. Today, frog invasions in more than 50 countries can be attributed to the international frog trade and frog farming—the United States and the European Union are some of the largest importers of these frogs. That’s a big problem, mostly because the frog is also a vector for the chytrid fungus, which has been linked to the extinction of nearly 100 other frog species.

  If you want to eat a frog’s leg, experts advise against buying farmed or local frogs. Look in creeks or swamps where bullfrogs have invaded.
Asian Shore Crab

  Asian shore crabs are native to temperate and subtropical regions of the western Pacific Ocean. The crustacean was first spotted off the remote Delaware Bay in 1988, but it likely arrived in the ballast water of cargo ships years before that. Over the next 15 years, its population exploded until it became the dominant crab on the intertidal coastlines of the United States from North Carolina to Maine. According to a 2003 study published in The Northeast Naturalist, Asian shore crabs have replaced many other species of crabs, including mud crabs and the previously invasive green crabs. Biologists attribute its successful invasion to the spawning season (it reproduces twice as long as many native crabs), and its ability to outcompete other species for space and food.

  At low tide, groups of Asian shore crabs can be found under rocks and in tide pools to take home as a treat.

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