A 2023 update to an earlier FOMA blog post by Wieteke Holthuijzen.
Golden crown-beard (Verbesina encelioides) is the most notorious invasive plant species on the atoll. For many years, most of Sand and Eastern islands were carpeted with chest-high, impenetrable thickets of this plant.
Although albatrosses like shade options, Verbesina created such dense cover that the birds had difficulty getting to their nesting sites, taking off, and raising their young. U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) surveys established that albatross reproductive success is substantially lower inside Verbesina thickets.
Their wings caught on the branches and the dense vegetation blocked the breeze, creating oven-like conditions for chicks.
But this is also a remarkable success story. With major funding from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (and support from the Friends of Midway Atoll), USFWS began a systematic control program. It took several years of persistent removal and treatment to exhaust the seedbank, but Verbesina is no longer a dominant land cover on Eastern and Sand Islands.
In addition to aggressive control efforts, propagating and outplanting native plant species such as the native plant Kāwelu (Eragrostis variabilis) has dramatically helped restore prime nesting seabird habitat.
The reproductive success rate for black-footed and Laysan albatrosses almost doubled in study plots on both Sand and Eastern Islands while numbers of nests overall increased for Laysan and black-footed albatross.
The Verbesina project shows that with sustained effort, invasive species can be brought under control. But constant vigilance is required to completely eradicate the remaining plants!
Friends of Midway Atoll is asking for your help to ensure this work continues through November 2023. With the support of our members and donors, FOMA is well positioned to match an anonymous donor’s generous gift to ensure that the work of Midway’s program to completely eradicate this noxious weed continues towards its historic goal. Click below to contribute via our fundraiser on Facebook.