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Drought and deluge: How SoCal's native and non-native species are faring

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Madeleine Cray, a 12-year-old volunteer with Heal the Bay's "Stream Team", checks the gender of a male crayfish during a tour of Cold Creek in the mountains north of Malibu, Calif., March 15. Crayfish are an invasive species in Southern California's freshwater streams and creeks, and may outcompete native fauna if left unchecked.
Christopher Okula/KPCC
Crayfish are an invasive species in Southern California's freshwater streams and creeks, and may outcompete native fauna if left unchecked.

Native and non-native species have been responding differently to the drought and deluge in Southern California, with native species appearing to gain an advantage.

What do French cuisine and invasive species in Southern California have in common?

A lot, apparently.

Species that wreak havoc like the bullfrog and the European garden snail were introduced to Southern California so people could eat them.

And they ended up thriving — much to the detriment of the region's native species. But the five-year drought and recent wet weather seem to have given the natives an advantage.

Greg Pauly is the curator of reptiles and amphibians at the Natural History Museum and he's been watching all of this. He joined A Martinez to break down how native species have been faring.

How do you know if something is native or non-native?

"You would like to think that it's always black and white and it's not. There is a gray area. What we're thinking about is species that arrive to a region on their own without any assistance from people. So when we think about native species, we're thinking about those that have been on this landscape for a really long time. But of course, we have some species that may very well have been transported by people, intentionally or unintentionally thousands of years ago. 

So, what do you call a species that may have been moved to a region 6,000 years ago? Or 13,000 years ago? Or 40,000 years ago? It's not always crystal clear whether it's native or non-native. But in many cases, we have a historical record that shows that a species wasn't here and often times those records come from museum records. We know it wasn't here and sometimes we can see when they first show up.

Is it always bad?

"The vast majority of times where non-native species show up, they find themselves in a completely unique place and what usually happens is they die off. In some cases, they may become established but they probably have very little negative effect.

There's a species of Gecko called the Mediterranean house Gecko that is showing up all across Southern California and we think it probably has a very neutral effect. It's taken out lots of insects around porch lights, but that's about.

But there are a few species that have really detrimental impacts. So the bullfrog, for example, we sort of term it "a mouth with legs." They can just eat pretty much everything smaller than them ... everything from ducklings to small turtles to fish ... so they can have a really dramatic impact on some of our native species."

To listen to the full segment, click the blue play button above. 

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