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Invasive Species for Dinner

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    Matt Barnes measures a Louisiana crayfish he caught on a trip to China in the summer of 2008. Louisiana crayfish from North America were intentionally introduced to China to provide a food source, but they are now an invasive pest that causes considerable damage to lotus and rice crops. Barnes and two fellow graduate students at Notre Dame hope to reduce numbers of some invasive species by suggesting ways people can eat them.

Southwestern graduate launches website for invasivores

As a doctoral student in ecology at Notre Dame, 2006 Southwestern graduate Matthew Barnes hopes to put invasive species on people’s minds.

He also wants to put them on their plates.

Barnes and two fellow graduate students at Notre Dame – Andy Deines and Sheina Sim – have launched a website dedicated to the concept of eating invasive species, also known as being an invasivore.

The website, invasivore.org, went online in January and includes information about invasive species as well as recipes. Barnes said he became interested in the topic after reading an article in the New York Times about invasive species as a sustainable food movement. His department at Notre Dame also hosts an invasive species cookout each summer, which served as additional inspiration for him.

“At the surface, invasivore.org is about sharing tips for collecting and consuming invasive species and possibly helping to reduce numbers of some invasive species populations,” Barnes said. “But we also use the site as an opportunity for more general invasive species education.”

Barnes and his colleagues have received support for their website from GLOBES (Global Linkages of Biology, the Environment and Society), an interdisciplinary fellowship program at Notre Dame sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Aside from building up the website, Barnes conducts scholarly research on the movement of aquatic plants and animals across the landscape. This ties into eating invasive species as a way to benefit the environment. Some of the organisms he has studied at Notre Dame include the Chinese mystery snail, the spiny water flea, Asian carp, and a variety of aquatic weeds.

“If we improve our understanding of how species move around, we may improve our ability to prevent and contain the movement of harmful invasive species,” he said.

Barnes said his interest in scientific research was sparked while he was a student at Southwestern, studying and researching under the direction of Biology Professor Romi Burks. He enrolled in her ecology class and later conducted independent research in the Biology Summer Research Program. 

“Conducting independent research in Dr. Burks’ lab during the Biology Summer Research Program and throughout my senior year as part of an honors thesis helped me discover my interest in research and provided me with a strong research foundation to build upon in grad school,” Barnes said.

Barnes said he would like to be a professor at a small liberal arts college or lead public outreach efforts for the government or a non-profit organization. He said his education at Southwestern was good preparation for what he is doing today.

“The SU liberal arts education fostered in me an appreciation for many different areas of study, and now I am more prepared to collaborate with economists, sociologists and other researchers exploring the human side of biological invasions,” he said.

−Kristen McLaughlin