Argentine Poison Hemlock Sunset
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This photograph was taken in Bariloche, Argentina on the shores of Lago Nanhuel Huapi. Shown in the foreground is Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum), an invasive plant (native to Europe) that spreads due to human activity and threatens native plants in both South and North America. Along with two other UIC Ph.D. candidates, I have obtained a grant ($14,000) from Chicago Wilderness to study Poison Hemlock in Cook County, where it is a new invasive species of conservation concern. We are testing the hypothesis that its spread is promoted by human activities connected to highways, transportation, and soil contamination by metals and organic pollutants. Indeed, all of the populations we have detected in Cook County are directly connected to a transportation corridor. I was surprised to find the species in Argentina in December of 2007, where it was also growing on a highway median next to this beautiful lake. Human activities also seem to promote its spread in Argentina, and I was able to sample some leaf tissue for a genetic comparison to the Poison Hemlock plants we have found in Illinois. This observation underscores the truly global problem that invasive species present to native species across the world.