Land managers, educators, policymakers, and researchers from various fields, including ecology, biology, entomology, plant pathology, policy, and the social sciences, are invited to collaborate later this month to address issues surrounding invasive species in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The collaborations will take place as part of a free workshop, called Biological Invasions: Confronting a Crisis, supported by the Global Systems Science Destination Area and organized by scientists studying organismal impacts on the environment and potential solutions as part of the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech.

The goal of the workshop is to bring people with different expertise together in order to identify gaps in knowledge and future needs for invasive species research and management. The regional stakeholder workshop will be held on April 23 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Lane Stadium. On April 24, a discussion of Virginia Tech expertise, resources, and future opportunities related to invasive species will take place from 8 a.m. to noon at the Hahn Garden Pavilion.

The two-day agenda will mix diverse stakeholders, as well as science and policy, with two keynote lectures, collaborative exercises, and facilitated discussion based on participants’ interests and career needs. Jamie Reaser, executive director of the National Invasive Species Council, will speak on the latest in policy, and Heather Reynolds, an associate professor of biology at Indiana University, will share some of the latest science and policy.

“Our main goal is to build a coalition of stakeholders in the region to know how to tackle invasive species from a combination of science, management, and policy perspectives,” said Bryan Brown, an associate professor and expert in aquatic ecology in the College of Science who is co-organizing the event. “Moving the needle over invasive species changes requires policy, and without that, we can’t do much that’s useful.”

Rhododendrons are an example of an invasive species locally in Virginia and North Carolina. Though native to various parts of the world including North America, these plants take over soil nutrients by growing in thick patches, threatening animal habitats and surrounding flora. In the region they grow in place of hemlock trees, a native species that has mostly died off as a result of a soft-bodied, sap-sucking invasive insect called a hemlock woolly adelgid, native to East Asia. The U.S. Forest Service is working to maneuver control strategies for rhododendron, including removal, herbicide application, and burning. But how these approaches impact ecosystems still needs further study with clear policy for effective land-management strategies.

“Many times we know what to do, but it doesn’t always get done because we need policies and support so boots on the ground can do this,” said Brown.

Globally, biological invasions contribute to disease outbreaks and agricultural loss and threaten human health and economic prosperity. Strategic and coordinated action by different groups requires collaboration beyond traditional biological and technological boundaries.

“It is really exciting to see scientists and other stakeholders coming together to grapple with a complex challenge like managing invasives,” said Todd Schenk, an assistant professor in the School of Public and International Affairs and an affiliate of the Global Change Center. As an expert in cross-disciplinary dialogue, Schenk will serve as the workshop’s main discussion facilitator.

“Policy and management decisions need to be informed by the best available science, but also cognizant of and responsive to stakeholders’ various interests and priorities,” Schenk said.

Participation is open to anyone whose work spans the invasive species problem, including land managers and owners, researchers, educators of all levels, government officials, and policymakers. Interested participants should submit their interests and RSVP via this link by April 17, 2018. Space is limited to the first 100 registrants.

Faculty organizers for the event include Jacob Barney and David Haak of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Scott Salom of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Bryan Brown and Erin Hotchkiss of biological sciences in the College of Science.