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Warm winter temperatures leading to spread of invasive plants

MILFORD, Ohio (WKRC) - You may be celebrating the warm stretches we've had recently, but plants that have lived here for thousands of years are still quiet and sleeping.

"Native plants, most of the things you see when you're out on the trails here, they're not fooled by these brief warm spells because they know to stay in the ground a little bit longer," said Dr. Cory Christopher, Director of the Center for Conservation at the Cincinnati Nature Center.

The exotic species - the plants that are newer to the area and evolved in warmer climates - are budding early and becoming invasive.

Dr. Christopher said, "Often times, they will carpet the ground, things like lesser celandine poppy, will literally form a carpet. It looks like shag carpeting when you look out on some of the areas here, and we have to go in and remove that because it comes in early in the year, it takes up all of the nutrients the native plants would have used, and it shades them out so they can't get any sun."

The removal of the invasive species isn't just needed for the health of native vegetation. It's also about improving the customer experience.

Dr. Christopher reiterated, "If you're hiking on a trail, that might not bother you that much; if you're hiking on a trail, and that's all you see - just this monoculture of honeysuckle or lesser celandine, you don't get that experience of being in nature because it's just a wall of green."

Warmer than average temperatures during the month of January impacts not just what grows on the forest floor at the nature center; it can also have an impact on animals.

"If it becomes to warm early in the year, is that going to lead to amphibians moving too early into these pools where you then get a sudden cold snap, it freezes the pond, and what is that going to do those larvae?" asked Dr. Christopher.

The effects of a warm January can be mitigated, but there is a concern here for longer-term impacts.

Dr. Christopher stated, "One of things that concerns us is climate change. As we get these warmer temperatures every year, you wind up seeing these invasive species that may not have been invasive here a few years ago suddenly can live here because the temperatures aren't so cold anymore. One of the problems with this continual warming is that you'll get invasive species - plants and animals both - that are going to be able to inhabit places that 10 years ago they would not have been able to inhabit."

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