Archive for the ‘Emerging/invasive pests’ Category
Posted in Emerging/invasive pests, Food Security, Meetings, tagged alien species, Clemson University, FAO, Government of the Philippines, IAPPS, IPM CRSP-IL, Unniversity of the Philippines, USAID on July 28, 2014 | Leave a Comment »
Posted in Biosecurity, Emerging/invasive pests, IPM, Phytosanitary, Quarantine, tagged alien species, Clemson University, Government of the Philippines, IAPPS, invasive species, IPM CRSP-IL, Philippines, University of the Philippines, USAID on July 28, 2014 | Leave a Comment »
Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog
The latest on the Bogia Coconut Syndrome
by LUIGI GUARINO on JULY 18, 2014
The main reason for my quick trip to Papua New Guinea last week was to get up to date on Bogia Coconut Syndrome (BCS). Readers with a long(ish) memory may remember that we blogged about this some time back. Quick recap. BCS is a phytoplasma disease first reported about 20 years ago in Yaro Plantation, near Bogia, Madang Province, on the northern coast on PNG.
Since then, it has devastated coconuts in a large contiguous area SE of Bogia, but it has also leap-frogged to a number of sites further along the coast towards Madang and beyond. In 2013, it was spotted in Mobdub, which is only a few kilometres from the Stewart Research Station of PNG’s Cocoa & Coconut Research Institute (CCI), home of COGENT’s International Coconut Genebank for the South Pacific (a collection placed under Article 15 of the International Treaty through a tripartite agreement involving the PNG government, Bioversity on behalf of COGENT and FAO). Here’s Alfred Kembu, the curator of the collection, talking about it in a video by Roland Bourdeix, who used to be the coordinator of COGENT, the global coconut network:
There are more videos on the disease and the threat it poses to the collection by COGENT and CIRAD. The closest outbreak to the collection is now about 2 km away. There has been a ban in place in Madang for 3 years now on the movement of nuts that have not been de-husked or are sprouting, as the pattern of movement suggests human agency.
At one of these outbreak sites1, first spotted in 2009, the affected area went from a radius of 200 m in 2011 to 1800 m in 2013; all palms are expected to be dead there within 2-5 years. The disease can kill 1-5 palms per month, meaning that a 1 ha plantation can be destroyed in 4 years. This is an extremely dangerous disease for local smallholders, as well as for the genebank. The same phytoplasma is suspected to affect other palm crops, such as oil palm and betel nut, but also banana and possibly others. This photo shows palms at different stages of development of the disease. In the final stage, nothing but the stem is left.
I went to Madang to take part in the inception workshop of the ACIAR-funded project “Bogia Coconut Syndrome in Papua New Guinea and related phytoplasma syndromes: Developing biological knowledge and a risk management strategy,” which is led by Prof. Geoff Gurr of Charles Sturt University, Queensland, Australia. The project activities, which will last four years, center on intensive and repeated surveying and sampling of both plants and insects in a number outbreak areas (in particular for DNA analysis using “loop-mediated isothermal amplification,” or LAMP, which is apparently a method of identifying phytoplasma DNA which is more efficient and cheaper than standard PCR), followed by a series of transmission experiments.
Although the main output will be basic scientific information on BCS (its causal organism, location in the host plant(s), possible alternate hosts, vector(s) etc, none of these are currently entirely clear), a management plan for the disease will also be devised on the basis of the results. The two-day workshop focused on discussing methodological and logistical issues pertaining to the project, which will involve a number of other PNG institutes apart from CCI, but we also talked about the possible relocation of the germplasm collection to a safer locality. Not quite ready for that yet, but we’ll keep working on it. Here is a shot of part of the collection, by the way: talls on the left, dwarfs on the right, cacao in the understory, which is sold to generate some income to help keep the collection going.
We’ll keep you posted…
Weed-sniffing dogs join the fight against invasive species
By Jim Meyer
There aren’t a lot of career options for dogs. Basically they’ve been limited to law enforcement, imperial transport, and designated hitter — until now. A crack team of canines is on the hunt for invasive species.
The dogs, which are equipped with GPS units because we live in the future, search the countryside looking for invasive weeds, snails, and, for the lucky dogs, scat. Under the auspices of the Montana nonprofit Working Dogs for Conservation, it’s a career that combines two of a dog’s favorite things: wandering about and smelling poop.
Jodi Helmer at Takepart has the rest of the tail (ahem):
Seamus was trained to sniff out Dyer’s woad, a noxious weed that takes over rangeland, choking out native plants that are an important source of food and habitat for wildlife.
The dog often works off-leash, crisscrossing quadrants of the park until he picks up the scent of Dyer’s woad. When he stops, the GPS in his bright orange doggy backpack marks the location of the invasive weed. [His handler, Aimee] Hurt also makes note of the coordinates and will return to spray the plant. …
A 2010 study published in the journal Invasive Plant Science and Management found that dogs sniffed out twice the number of invasive plants that humans could detect with their eyes.
The dogs are a great tool in the fight against non-natives, but there are limitations to their work. So far, they are only on the trail of terrestrial invasives, so lionfish and zebra muscles are safe for the moment. But with the right training, who knows?
This Canine Conservationist Protects the Environment by Sniffing Out Invasive Weeds and Wildlife, Takepart
Jim Meyer is a Baltimore-based stand-up comedian, actor, retired roller derby announcer, and freelance writer. Follow his exploits at his website and on Twitter.
Posted in Bacteria, Biological control, Biopesticide, Control tactics, Crop protection, Cultural control, Education, Emerging/invasive pests, Food Security, Fungi, Host plant resistance, Insects, Insects, IPM, Nematodes, Pest diagnostics, Pests, Plant Pathogens, Quarantine, Technology transfer, Viruses, Weeds, Weeds, tagged academic training, Africa, Asia, Bangladesh, biocontrol, capacity building, Caribbean, Central Asia, cultural control, farmer training, gender equity, Indonesia, IPM, IPM Innovation Lab at Virginia Tech, Latin America, Nepal, Parthenium, pest management, short term training, Southeast Asia, Trichoderma, West Africa. South Asia on June 27, 2014 | Leave a Comment »
Annual Report 2013
Posted on May 27, 2014 by Kelly Izlar
The IPM Innovation Labs’s FY 2013 (October 1, 2012–September 30, 2013) annual report is now available. Click below to download the document.
For users with lower bandwidth and/or with interest in only certain specific topic areas, we will split individual chapters and major sections out of the Annual Report for you to view individually. Check back in the coming weeks for a list of individual chapters and sections for download. For more information contact: email@example.com
Table of Contents
Management Entity Message
Highlights and Achievements in 2012–2013
Latin America and the Caribbean
International Plant Diagnostic Network (IPDN)
International Plant Virus Disease Network (IPVDN)
Gender Equity, Knowledge, and Capacity Building
Associate & Buy-In Awards
Training and Publications
Short- and Long-Term Training
Appendices: Collaborating Institutions and Acronyms
Posted in Emerging/invasive pests, IPM, Meetings, Climate change, tagged invasive species, Climate change, Philippines, IAPPS, Integrated Pest Management, USAID, globalization, human mobility, SE Asia IPM Innovation Lab meeting, IPM Innovation Lab, Clemson University, Virginia Tech, P on June 12, 2014 | Leave a Comment »
Posted in Emerging/invasive pests, Plant Pathogens, Quarantine, tagged berry borer beetle in Ethiopia, Burundi and Rwanda, Central America, Global Climate Change Risk Index, International Coffee Organisation., Uganda on June 4, 2014 | Leave a Comment »
Created on Saturday, 31 May 2014 18:38 Written by Malcolm Burgess
Malcolm Burgess explores the mighty David and Goliath challenge that the world’s ethical consumers recently took on.
Wake up and smell the coffee. It’s what two billion of us enjoy doing every single day. But the bad news is that this could become a thing of the past.
Whether we enjoy a half-caf soy almond latte or something even more exotic, the world’s future supply of quality coffee is at risk. A combination of extreme weather, rising temperatures and pests as a result of climate change means that prime coffee growing areas are seeing production plummet.
‘Climate change is the biggest threat to the industry, if we don’t prepare ourselves for a big disaster,’ says Mauricio Galindo, head of operations at the intergovernmental International Coffee Organisation.
It’s already led Starbucks to visit the White House to warn that the world’s coffee supply is under threat without a strategy in place.
But while western coffee drinkers may be affected by rising prices and poorer quality, the impact on coffee producers has already been catastrophic. Over 25 million rural households across the globe which depend on coffee growing are at risk.
Nowhere has been worse hit than the two million small coffee farmers in Central America where this winter’s harvest was 50% down on normal, for the second year running.
Trees can be saved by pruning and being treated with chemicals but this costs money and means normal production will be interrupted, together with the problem of toxicity to humans.
Nicaragua is one of the countries in the world most affected by climate change, according to the 2013 Global Climate Change Risk Index. It is also one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. The Nicaraguan government estimates that by 2050, 80% of its current coffee growing areas will have disappeared.
Rosibel and Benjamin Fijardo, with two young children, work in Jinotega, in the country’s central highlands, and falling production has turned them to scavenging.
‘If we don’t pick dropped coffee beans, we don’t eat, and nor do our children,’ says Rosibel. ‘There are lots of people and just not enough work here.’
They have no money for fruit or meat and instead, ironically, drink coffee.
Rising temperatures have also seen the appearance of the berry borer beetle in Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, causing $500 million of damage a year in Africa. This year’s drought in Brazil led to a doubling of coffee prices, with major concerns that climate change will cause a big decrease from the world’s biggest coffee producer.
It isn’t just the weather that has led to the current crisis. While Fairtrade has made inroads, the majority of producers still only receive a fraction of the price of a cup of coffee and the situation has worsened.
‘Commodities analysts confirm that, in a global market awash with speculators’ cash as a result of the quantitative easing policies of governments trying to end the recession, the price of coffee beans bears little relationship to supplies,’ says food writer Alex Renton.
What can we, as coffee drinkers, do? The answer, of course, is to support brands that provide the best coffee and pay their producer a fair price. And to appreciate that climate change affects us all. Starbucks isn’t knocking on President Obama’s door for nothing.
COFFEE IN HISTORY
Since the Middle Ages, and its origins in the luxury coffee houses of the Middle East, this mysterious, complex, stimulating beverage has provoked love and fear. Considered by some to be a cure-all, coffee has always aroused scientific interest. Experts agree that consumption of 4- 5 cups per day is healthy.
• Coffee is one of the most consumed drinks after water.
• Coffee is one of the most traded commodities in the world after oil.
• Over 1400 million cups of coffee are drunk around the world each day.
• The majority of coffee is consumed at breakfast.
• Take your coffee black with no sugar? Then your coffee is practically calorie-free with just 2-5 kcal per cup. (from Nestle)
• The two main coffee species grown commercially are Arabica andRobusta.
• A coffee plant can live for between 60 and 70 years.
• It can take up to four years for a coffee tree to reach maturity and bare fruit
• The English word coffee originates from the Arabic word ‘kaweh’ meaning strength or vigour
High temperatures have led to an epidemic of leaf or coffee rust fungus – a hazard of growing 70% of the world’s total production of Arabica. Grown on hillsides at higher altitudes, there was no problem until recently as the fungus dies at temperatures under 10 degrees C.
Posted in Emerging/invasive pests, Fungi, Quarantine, tagged bananas, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Cavendish, IITA, Mozambique, quarantine, SADC, Stellenbosch University, Tropical Race (TR4), USAID on June 4, 2014 | Leave a Comment »
May 30th, 2014
A development strategy to fight and contain a potentially deadly outbreak of the Tropical Race (TR4) strain of Panama Disease in Mozambique is being put together by a team of delegates who gathered in Africa last month to discuss a tactical approach to suppressing the banana disease so it doesn’t spread elsewhere on the continent. At www.freshfruitportal.com we reveal details of the workshop program ahead of an in-depth report to be published later this year.
Over the last few weeks a delegation of banana experts has been involved in discussions centering on the spread of TR4 to the African continent.
Since the fungus was discovered on a Matanuska banana plantation 15 months ago, a team of experts has joined forces to set up educational programs, while it is understood that a ‘continental action plan’ is currently being drafted.
Key players include the South African research institute Stellenbosch University, the South African Development Community (SADC), the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The program is also being supported and part funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).
“When symptoms of yellowing and wilting of Cavendish bananas that appeared to be spreading were observed in an export plantation in northern Mozambique in February 2013, few would have expected the immense challenges that the following 12 months would bring,” the group has said in an initial report obtained by www.freshfruitportal.com.
“Once the cause of the symptoms was established, business became unusual for many on the continent, and indeed globally, as banana producers and their associated organizations started looking for answers to their questions and for measures to protect their crops.
“The development of a continental action plan to protect bananas in Africa became priority. Foc TR4 is not new to the banana world anymore. It has been ravaging Cavendish plantations and some local banana varieties in Asia for more than two decades.”
The document highlighted that bananas were a staple food for millions of people in Africa, and therefore it was necessary to form not only a containment strategy for the affected farm, but to make the whole continent prepared against a spread and possible reintroduction.
“This is exactly what the African meeting on TR4 intends to achieve,” the report adds.
It goes on to explain the considerable damage to Cavendish bananas and other locally-grown varieties in other countries around the world and how Mozambique needs to manage the disease outbreak.
“To prepare African countries reliant on banana for food and security and income generation, it is necessary to implement a series of informed interventions. The first priority is to contain the outbreak in northern Mozambique and prevent its spread across the region and to neighbouring countries.
“The second phase of activities is to prepare other countries dependent on banana against future incursions of this disease through enhanced plant bio-security frameworks and research capacity.
“Different types of banana germplasm, reflecting the diversity cultivated in Africa, require screening for resistance to Foc TR4, and the appropriate adoption and delivery pathways developed to provide resistant planting materials to hundreds of millions of Africans who depend on the crop for food security and income generation.”
The full report will contain further information including scientific advances and research approaches to detect and manage TR4, the potential impact TR4 will have on food availability in Africa, trans-boundary plant pest management in Africa, a mapping of the risks of any potential spread, and an overall official strategy to manage its control which sets out clear roles and responsibilities for all the institutions involved.
“This is not a task that a single research group or country can achieve. The discovery of TR4 in Mozambique is not a company or country issue. It is a continental issue which needs to be addresses by research organizations, national plant protection organizations, universities and governments throughout Africa,” the report goes on to say.
“The opportunity to develop a strategy and coordinate efforts on the continent has been made possible by much appreciated sponsorship and we thank the organizations for recognizing the importance of the outbreak and for enabling us to develop a combined strategy to deal with it.”
Meanwhile there has been somewhat of a global focus on maintaining TR4 Panama Disease this year with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations hosting a forum in Rome recently to outline the threat it poses to the international banana industry, food security and economies.
Chiquita CEO Ed Lonergan has also praised the global banana industry for its efforts to deal with TR4 and warned it would be prudent to prepare for life without the Cavendish.
Posted in Emerging/invasive pests, tagged Asian longhorned beetle, beech bark disease, emerald ash borer, European bark beetle, forest diseases, forest insects, gypsy moth, hemlock woolly adelgid, New York, sudden oak death on June 4, 2014 | Leave a Comment »
When Chris Standley received a tip that some ash trees within the Mohonk Preserve might be infested by a devastating insect, he grabbed a drawknife and peeled away the bark.
There underneath, Standley, the preserve’s coordinator of applied conservation, found evidence of the emerald ash borer, the Asian insect that is wiping out ash trees across the country.
“Honestly,” he said, “I wasn’t surprised.”
Indeed, when it comes to harboring non-native damaging forest pests, Ulster County is one of the most infested counties in New York, which also just happens to be one of the most infested states in the nation.
Data provided to the Poughkeepsie Journal by the U.S. Forest Service shows Ulster is beset with 41 distinct invasive bugs and blights. Ulster ranks second only to Suffolk County, which has 42.
Dutchess is tied for third with 40.
By comparison, some counties in the southwest have fewer than five invasive species.
The reason, scientists say, is twofold.
First, New York is a significant port of entry for international trade that is responsible for the spread of the pests. And second, the state’s forests are diverse.
“If you go into a typical western forest, a lot will have just one tree species,” said Andrew Liebhold, a research entomologist with the Forest Service. “You go into your backyard in Poughkeepsie and walk into a woodlot, you might have 30 species of trees there.”
On top of that, many of the state’s trees are related to species in Europe and Asia. So like other immigrants who have come through New York City, the bugs have not had to go far to find places where the food is familiar.
The data highlight both the urgency of the problem and the challenges scientists and policymakers face in dealing with it.
That is why a team of experts recently met at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook to study the science and consider solutions. The yearlong project is being funded by the Forest Service and two charitable foundations.
“We’ve assembled a team of ecologists, entomologists, economists and policy experts,” said Gary Lovett, a forest ecologist at the Cary Institute and a co-leader of the project.
The list of pests includes insects — the emerald ash borer, European bark beetle, gypsy moth and hemlock woolly adelgid, among others — and pathogens such as beech bark disease.
Some of the pests can spread like a deadly pandemic.
Chestnut blight was first discovered in 1904 in New York City. It is believed the fungus was introduced when Asian chestnut trees, which are more resistant, were brought to America in the 19th century.
In 50 years, the disease destroyed more than 9 million acres — about 14,000 square miles — of American chestnut forest from Mississippi to Maine.
Chestnuts once accounted for 25 percent of all standing timber in eastern forests, according to the Forest Service. Now, just stumps and disease-ridden shrubs remain.
Scientists believe the same fate awaits ash trees, thanks to the emerald ash borer. The green beetle burrows under bark to lay its eggs. With the food supply system chokes off, the trees die in two to four years.
The beetle has killed 50 million ash trees in Michigan since it was discovered there in 2002, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.
Locally, it has been found in Dutchess and Ulster counties. And experts say there is little that can be done to stop it. Ash trees can be treated with an insecticide, but the effect is temporary and experts point out it would be impractical to inoculate meaningful numbers of the trees.
What’s more, while chestnut blight virtually wiped out one species — the American chestnut — the emerald ash borer is expected to kill off 20 species of ash trees.
“It’s not looking like there are going to be many survivors,” said Liebhold, the Forest Service entomologist.
The impacts are not limited to the trees. On the Shawangunk Ridge, hemlocks provide cover for streams and other wet areas, according to Cara Lee, director of the Shawangunk Ridge program for The Nature Conservancy.
Hemlocks are threatened by hemlock wooly adelgid, a type of plant lice that sucks sap and nutrients from hemlock foliage.
“If (the hemlocks) are hit by an invasive insect that kills them, it has a cascading effect in terms of affecting water quality, what lives in the stream and recreational use,” Lee said. “So one invasive species can affect a whole range of values.”
There are economic impacts to consider as well.
Ash trees are common in village and city centers, as well as the yards of homeowners.
Removing the dead trees before they fall on something will be a considerable financial burden on municipalities and homeowners, experts say.
In 2010, the Forest Service estimated the emerald ash borer will cost communities in a 25-state area as much as $10.7 billion for the treatment, removal and replacement of more than 17 million ash trees in developed areas by the end of the decade.
In many cases, once a pest emerges, there is little that be done to stop it.
So experts are shifting their efforts to finding ways to keep them from coming in, and to slowing the spread.
The first step, they say, is educating the public. Last month, the state Department of Environmental Conservation held a weeklong effort aimed at raising awareness of the emerald ash borer.
The bug is often introduced to new areas through the transportation of infested firewood. State regulations restrict the movement of untreated firewood to 50 miles.
“The beginning of the camping season is quickly approaching and it is important to remind travelers in New York state to use only local firewood,” DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens said.
Experts also caution against the purchase of nonnative plant species for home gardens.
But many believe larger solutions — such as tighter restrictions on imports — must be implemented at the state and federal level.
“When we are using these global market trade systems, we are affecting the landscape,” Standley of the Mohonk Preserve said.
The group that met recently at Cary will provide recommendations that could be used to shape future import regulations.
All agree that the composition of local forests will be considerably different in coming decades.
What is unclear is whether the trees that replace ashes and hemlocks will be challenged by some new invader, as well as how the changes will affect the forests’ complex and interconnected web of life.
“Often by the time we are really aware of what it is, it is unstoppable,” Lee said. “That is why it is so important that people are studying it and understanding how these populations are introduced and what the impact is on native plants and animals.”
John Ferro: 845-437-4816; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @PoJoEnviro
TOP 5 SCARIEST FOREST PESTS
1. Hemlock woolly adelgid. A tiny aphid-like insect that was introduced from Asia on trees imported for nurseries. It has killed many of the hemlock trees in the southern Appalachians and the mid-Atlantic states, and is spreading locally now. Hemlocks are the most long-lived species of local old-growth forests and are particularly important along stream banks.
2. Emerald ash borer. A small beetle imported from Asia in wooden crates and pallets, it was introduced in Michigan and has been spreading across the Midwest and into the Northeast. It recently arrived in Ulster and Dutchess counties. It attacks and kills all types of ash trees, which are important in upland and wetland forests.
3. Asian long-horned beetle. A large beetle introduced from Asia in wooden crates, pallets, and other packing material. While not yet widespread, there have been serious outbreaks of this pest in New York City, New Jersey, Chicago, Toronto and other areas. A recent outbreak in Worcester, Massachusetts, has required the removal of more than 30,000 trees from that city so far. It feeds on many different types of hardwood trees, but prefers the maples, which are the most dominant trees in our region.
4. Sudden oak death. This disease, caused by a fungus-like organism, was imported from Asia on live plants for nurseries. It is currently widespread in California and Oregon, where it kills oaks and tan oaks, but is not yet widespread in the East. Eastern oak trees, which are very important in the Hudson Valley and southward, are known to be susceptible, so if it becomes widespread it could cause major damage.
5. The next one. Somewhere right now there is an insect or disease just arriving in our country on a live tree imported for nurseries or in the wooden crates inside a shipping container. It will probably not be found by our customs or agricultural inspection agents. Will it establish a population here in this country? What species of tree will it attack? How serious will the damage be?
Source: Gary Lovett, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
BY LAURA SANTOSO 06.02.14 | 9:02 AM | PERMALINK
Tucked between the two volcanoes that form Santiago Island, Puerto Egas was unlike any beach I had ever seen before. Layered rock formations rose up out of the black sand, creating stacked arches and tidal pools that attracted brightly colored Sally Lightfoot crabs, majestic marine iguanas, and playful sea lions. But something was keeping me from focusing on the natural wonder in front of me: wasps were buzzing incongruously around my head.
Unfortunately, the wasp incident was not an isolated episode. Even with my untrained eye, I saw the undeniable evidence of invasive species every single day I was in the Galapagos. Overwhelmed by their relentless presence, I wondered what it would take to rid these extraordinary islands of their menacing intruders.
Increased human travel to the Galapagos Islands since their discovery in the mid-1500s has introduced hundreds of alien species to the archipelago, both intentionally and accidentally. While many of these foreign species are harmless, some have spread throughout the islands like a disease, terrorizing native flora and fauna unprepared for the ecological onslaught. However, eradicating these pests is surprisingly complicated. So complicated, in fact, that I became convinced we may never again see a day when some of the most iconic native Galapagos species thrive on their own.
The primary reason that invasive species will never be eradicated from the Galapagos, I admit sheepishly, is that humans will inevitably inhabit the islands. While people are no longer directly threatening native Galapagos wildlife through hunting, their frequent shuttling to and from the mainland drastically increases the likelihood of foreign species introduction. The daily influx of cargo for the archipelago’s 30,000 residents and 150,000 annual visitors provides an easy conduit for seeds and critters to hitch a ride. And given the economic importance of the tourism industry, implementing strict quarantine regulations seems far too cumbersome to be plausible. The arrival of a new invasive species – or the return of an old one – remains a constant threat.
The ectoparasitic fly Philornis downsi is one such newly introduced species. Originally from Trinidad and Brazil, the fly was discovered on the Galapagos in 1997. The larvae, found in 64-100% of nests on 12 out of the 13 main islands, have been sucking the life out of newborn Galapagos finches, and scientists are just beginning to catch up to the problem. P. downsi’s accidental introduction is emblematic of how the Galapagos ecology is constantly changing, creating new challenges for conservationists at the drop of a hat.
Once invasive species infiltrate the Galapagos, eliminating pests becomes its own complex challenge. An immediate barrier is money: when options for eradication are available, they are extremely expensive. Project Isabela, the elimination of feral goats on three of the islands, cost $10 million. Conservation requires continuous funding, which primarily comes from donor-dependent international organizations like the Galapagos Conservancy and Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF).
Even with unlimited cash, it seems impossible to eradicate certain intruders without also harming native species. Small but pervasive species, like rats, are extremely difficult to target without catching resident wildlife in the crossfire. In 2012, 22 tons of rat bait were dropped by helicopter on Pinzon island, blanketing 7 square miles with little blue poisonous cubes. Several organizations, including the Galapagos National Park and CDF, supported the move because the rats had been devouring the eggs of native giant tortoises and lava lizards. But the “raticide” sparked significant controversy, imperiling neighboring native species like the Galapagos hawks. While pesticides are often the best available option (biological interventions are technically challenging to develop), they cannot suppress invasive species without causing side effects.
The final piece of the puzzle, after thwarting new invasive species and removing existing ones, is actively helping endemic species recover. Some local fauna, like the tortoise and the mangrove finch, have been so decimated that they may be destined for extinction without significant help. On the other hand, Giant Tortoise rehabilitation is one example of seemingly productive human intervention. When tortoise populations had dwindled from thousands to dozens on some islands in the 1960s, they were taken in by humans and bred in captivity. Repatriation projects on Santa Cruz, Isabela, and Espanola have increased total tortoise populations to 26,000, but the current dependence on human assistance sparks questions about whether the intervention itself is unnatural, or unsustainable. Although the repatriated tortoises have begun to mate by themselves in the wild, it is unclear if they can maintain their numbers once captive breeding stops. After all, many foreign enemies of the tortoise, like cats and fire ants, still roam free.
Conservationists in the Galapagos need to execute a three pronged attack to win the biological battle against invasive species – they must remove existing invasive species, prevent new aliens from coming in, and help endemic species recover. Although conservationists have helped keep 95% of the original Galapagos species alive, their work is far from over; in fact, it may never be over. Ridding the Galapagos of its pests is not a one-time challenge, like curing small pox; rather, it is a constant battle that requires disciplined adherence to a complicated plan. As long as humans live on the islands, people will have to continually fight to reverse the damage caused by their own species in order to protect the beautiful endemic wildlife of the Galapagos.
Laura Santoso is a student at the California Institute of Technology. This article is the result of a research project undertaken during the Winter 2014 Evolution course.