Request feedback - on possible project - the world of alligatorweed

I don’t want to take on any more responsibilities than I have, but I’m thinking, a project on the community of plants and animals on alligatorweed patches might be useful to a few researchers. In the spring of 2018, I saw a bio-control agent, the alligatorweed flea beetle on alligatorweed in a lake I paddle frequently and subsequently in almost all the watery venues in our area, except where the downriver current was fast enough to discourage growth of alligatorweed. I’ve since found another of the three introduced species to slow the spread of this noxious aquatic plant, the alligatorweed stem borer moth. Much later, I also found the larvae of the southern beet webworm moth, which presence was cited as apossible bio-control agent in the reports on the bio-control agents before they were introduced. Also noted in the reports prior to introduction was the uncertainty about natural predators present where it was proposed to released the bio-control agents.

I have no biology back, no coursework in college, only the Florida Master Naturalist background which is a general introduction to the natural world.

Since 2018, these patches of alligatorweed, possibly because of their growth mass which allows them to float and allow leaves to stay at sunlight level, but massed enough to form tussock-like aggregation, without soil, have attracted other plants such as water hemlock, duckweed, water spangles and in more protected from sun areas, parrots feathers. Regarding creatures, the presence of spiders was first noticed, and increasingly other insects and spiders. Last week, I was amazed at the number of insects I found in one large mass of alligatorweed, which also included the alligatorweed flea beetle and the stem borer moth.

There probably are technical parameters for what a keystone species is, but it occurred to me, that the community of plants and animals which seem to occur frequently in these patches of alligatorweed may be of interest to people who study aquatic vegetation/ecology.

Since I (and others) who post do not often name on what plant or companion plant was present, trying to find what can be found in the community of alligatorweed would be difficult. I thought that a project might help to aggregate all of these seemingly unrelated posts.

I do not know what brambles I am going to encounter and would welcome all the unlikelihood that it would be helpful (the work is not worth the result), what work and process would be required of me, what special efforts, knowledge and skills would be required to be of scientific value and how onerous it would be to get others to take the effort to include this project when they post I lack the background, the precise eye and discipline, and therefore the judgment to know what might be useful and what might not, so if a useful project requires this, so I probably would not be a credible project organizer. Perhaps someone else with better qualifications could step up to the plate if such a project would be valuable, my role being a consistent observer who posts.

Honest (if harsh) feedback is much welcome – I am mired in my mind on this issue and welcome particularly input on “unlikely to be of help”, project parameters too elusive, project organizer qualifications, etc. — the negatives. I’d like to resolve this one way or another and setttle this issue in my mind.


If you think a project like this would be fun, there’s no reason you shouldn’t set one up. I haven’t tried this myself, but you can set up a traditional project where filling out a certain observation field is required. You could ask people to fill out a field like “Name of Associated Plant” and then enter whatever the species for alligator weed is and then add the observation to your project. I’m not sure that there’s a way to require a certain value for the field (like your organism name), so you as the admin might have to occasionally browse the observations and toss out any where aligator weed wasn’t the associated plant, but I’m assuming that wouldn’t be a huge number.
Once you’ve set up a project like that, the nice thing for you is that when you’re browsing observations and see something cool on alligator weed, now you have a project to chuck it into where you can find it again later if you want. As an example, I have a Sumacs for Wildlife project ( ) where I manually add any interesting sumac/critter observations I find. I don’t let others add observations to it, so I haven’t bothered adding observation field requirments to help control what goes in, but the end result shows you what kind of collection you might set up with a similar alligator weed project.


I think usefulness is a difficult thing to measure, especially because you never know what people are going to want to study in the future. Every year, there are new students, PhD candidates, and field ecologists who might decide to start a research project related to alligatorweed, insects as biocontrol agents, Florida ecosystems, etc. So even if there’s no one currently saying “this would help me,” it could still be helpful for someone later.

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The size and responsibility for the project can be as small or as large as you want…if being able to collect all your own relevant observations this way would be nice, you could do like m_whitson suggested and not let other people add to your project. Or if you want the project to be a bit bigger, you could let others add observations but not really publicize it. Have fun!

I’m not sure if there’s a way to require a particular value for an observation field, but you can definitely require observations to be a particular taxon. So one work-around might be to create a project collecting observations of the plant of interest (alligatorweed, sumacs, etc.) and require an observation field like “Associated observation” where people put the link to the observation of the interacting organism. A little clunky, but on the bright side, especially for public projects, it would let you verify that the plant is actually the one you’re interested in. (Although you still have to manually remove observations that were originally misidentified.)

Thank you all, who replied. I didn’t realize one could create a project holding only one’s observations. And the issue of usefulness is right on: one never knows what someone in the future will be studying. Future usefulness may be a good rationale if one really wants to do something and needs a social justification, but the chances of a Thoreauan resurrection is probably nil.

What prompted me to consider that this might be helpful was that there is, to my knowledge, no requirement after a new species is introduced into the USA for that species and its impact be studied as least for an equivalent amount of time it took to study it before introduction.

My immersion into looking more carefully at nature is short: about 11 years, but even in that time I’ve noticed that species adapt and certain species have an awesome resiliency (like cypress trees). I’ve also begun to question whether some of the words we use, “invasive” being an example, may be too fraught with social-cultural biases. A good example in our area is native limpkins which we were told relied solely on the native Florida apple snails to thrive; the decline of the limpkin population, it was suggested, was due to the decline of the native apple snail population and the dominance of the island apple snail, a not a native species (invasive). However, I have seen limpkins thrive where there are no Florida apple snails (in SW Georgia), but where there are bountiful island apple snails. I have also seen at least one limpkin in a lake where its primary food, it seems, is the Asian clam (another non-native), as indicated by a nearby mound of Asian clam shells where it was. Based on observations of a meagre number of Florida apple snail clutches, there are not enough of this species for even a single limpkin pair to thrive. I’ve not seen island apple snail eggs or adults on this lake. I’ve since found that the Florida snail kites (from Gainesville, FL to the Everglades) have adapted and it’s threatened population growing due it’s dietary change from Florida apple snails which were decreasing in number to the non-native island apple snail which is increasing in number.

Seeing an increased variety of both plants and insects in alligatorweed stands, without knowing much about many of them, I thought the presence of these might indicated new relationships of predatory or of supportive nature. Spiders seemed to appear on the plants the next year after I first saw alligatorweed flea beetle eggs, larvae and adults. Did the spiders see an new food source? In which case, the notation “no know predator” in the reports prior to introduction of this bio-control agent might, after introduction, be amended. But, all I know is that they appear in greater numbers when alligatorweed flea beetles are present . And there seem to be more than one species of spiders present.

In another case, on one of two patches (2.5 miles apart by water) in a river near the Gulf coast, I’ve seen what was ID’d as an army worm as defoliant feeder, but have not seen it recently. Last week I saw a variety of insects and spiders on that patch, it seemed an anomaly. I’ve never seen some insects on alligatorweed. Some were clearly defoliating or causing the plant to wilt. The only other patch on that river was about 2…5 miles upriver. There the alligatorweed was thriving – no signs of leaf damage or visitations by insects or spiders. I suspect that would change before the summer solstice.

My questions of why not may be naive because of my lack of knowledge and experience. But, it would seem to me, that if one were targetting a species of non-natives for herbicide treatment, shouldn’t one know what other species have come to depend on that whole community of plants and other living things which would also be affected?

Back to the limpkins again. Island apple snails are opportunistic egg layers – whatever is growing in the water with appendages above the water is sufficient. Water hyacinths at least on the venue with a host of limpkins are dotted with the bright pink eggs of this snail… If herbicides were applied to the hyacinths, wouldn’t that affect the island apple snail and then also the population of limpkins? Does the agency which authorized such spraying know about that impact? Would it matter if they did know? (Another issue).

Regarding starting a project as a record of my own observations, I’m not enough of a scientific bend to be able to take it much beyond mere observations and personal generalizations. I think if there was some other merit for that project, I would set the defining indicator as the plant itself. Whatever is seen with that plant, whether by sheer coincidence of being blown in or chance feeding (the army worms) or an established pattern (water hemlocks thriving in the patches.)
And yes, I would have to manually add or delete other postings (a very time consuming task even though it would be confined to postings of plants in water (alligatorweed also grows along the shoreline, but the stems are not hollow when they become terrestrial.) But since each post on inaturalist should be of a single species, the chances of seeing any other plant or animal on a post would be slim. Since posts of animals don’t normally indicate proximity to other species, I couldn’t use this method (if there was someway to search by word in posts – is there?). So, I have to ask, what is the likelihood of harvesting posts of associations with alligatorweed be. If possible, the results would probably not be worth the effort.

Your responses have led me to think more operationally and it doesn’t seem such a good idea, and its value may be more as an example of a Quixotic venture – an impossible dream.

What please is a limpkin?

Water bird.

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While their call is loud and, to some, grating, they are the gentlest looking of birds. Before the nesting season, or, if juvenile, they will tolerate one to observe them (if one remains quiet with minimum movement). Not so during nesting season, when a quick alarm might be the first sign of the bird, which camouflages easily in its common habitats.

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