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Goal: Deliver Benefits to the Public Can Plant Invasions Be Prevented? Multidisciplinary Identification and Interception of Non-Native, Invasive Plants at the Port of Savannah, GA, USA

Team of people standing in front of shipping containers

The invasive plant collection team after a morning of vacuuming seeds from refrigerated shipping containers at the Port of Savannah in November 2016. The team collected non-native, potentially invasive, plant seeds with backpack vacuums. Photo by Rima Lucardi, USDA Forest Service.


The positive relationship between increasing national gross domestic product (GDP) and non-native plant species-richness suggests that international trade volumes probably contribute to exotic plant invasions and that major seaports may serve as gateways for plant propagules (e.g., seeds or other structures that can found a new population in a new range). The Port of Savannah, 11-miles in on the Savannah River from the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the nation’s largest and busiest container terminals in North America. The Forest Service and their collaborating partners designed a research study to 1) examine the baseline plant diversity at the container terminal and 2) assess the species diversity, propagule pressure, and the risk of new, non-native plant invasions from cryptically hitchhiking seeds on shipping containers.


Non-native (or exotic), invasive plant species are moved, by humans or natural dispersal events, from one continent to another. Invasive plants negatively impact the economy, ecology, and agro-security of the nation. The southern region of the U.S. is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, with major ports on both coastlines (including Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Miami, and Savannah). The South is also home to many pervasive and costly invasive plants and animals. Collaborative research led by the Forest Service seeks to evaluate if major seaports, such as the Port of Savannah, are 1) hot-spots of non-native plant diversity and 2) gateways of non-native plant dispersal. Floristic surveys were conducted at the container terminal and we found the Port of Savannah to have low overall plant diversity but disproportionately high non-native plant species-richness when compared to regional surveys. Seeds were collected from refrigerated shipping containers, with focus on a single agricultural commodity over two seasons at the Port of Savannah. Working with multiple herbaria, we utilized a two-pronged approach to identify plants from both floristic surveys and seed collections: morphological (taxonomic keys) and molecular (DNA barcoding). Invasive, listed Federal Noxious Weeds have been found, and the study remains on-going.

Principal Investigator
Rima D. Lucardi, PhD, Research Ecologist
4552 - Insects, Diseases, and Invasive Plants
Strategic Program Area
Invasive Species
External Partners
Dr. Travis D. Marsico, Arkansas State University
Dr. Chelsea E. Cunard, Arkansas State University
Jennifer N. Reed, Arkansas State University
Jarron K. Gravesande, Arkansas State University
Dr. Kevin S. Burgess, Columbus State University
Lauren Whitehurst, Columbus State University
Samantha J. Worthy, Columbus State University