Think you’re a survivor? You’ve got nothing on the cane toad, former native of Central and South America, now scourge of Australia. To snuff out their competition for resources, cane toad tadpoles will actually cannibalize nearby cane toad eggs. And all those eggs the tadpoles are too full to gobble up? Well, researchers recently learned that the hardy amphibians have that covered, too: cane toad tadpoles release chemicals into the water that stunt the growth of developing embryos.
Scientists already knew that cane toads communicate with pheromones and use these chemical signals to locate tasty eggs. They also wondered if the pheromones have another, more insidious, purpose. Biologists at the University of Sydney set up a simple experiment to find out. They placed cane toad eggs in 20 containers filled partially with water; in 10 of those containers, they added tadpoles and separated them from the eggs with mesh screens.
In another edition of “invasive species are a bad idea,” Australia is suffering a plague of feral camels (on top of the rabbit brouhaha, the cane toad fracas, and the red fox situation). Imported by those clever British settlers to work in the desert in the late 19th century, these dromedaries were released into the wild when trains and machinery took over the work. Now, there are more than a million kicking around the outback, and they are coming to eat your air conditioner. And your toilet. And anything else that might have water in it.
Branson’s plan to save lemurs is turning heads.
If you build Madagascar’s lemurs a new home, will they come? And can you trust them not to trash the place?
Sir Richard Branson, private moon shot funder, Virgin Group kingpin, kooky billionaire du jour, has been turning heads with his announcement that he plans to import 30 ring-tailed lemurs from zoos to one of his privately owned islands in the British Virgin Islands. The idea is to give endangered or threatened species a new place to live and breed—Madagascar’s civil war has meant a resurgence in lemur habitat loss, and ring-taileds are listed as “near threatened”—but biologists and conservationists are pointing out how Branson could be doing the island’s native ecosystem a serious disservice. “It’s pretty weird,” Simon Stuart, chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission, told the BBC. “What else lives on the island, and how might they be affected?”
Sick of invasive snakes eating through your wiring and biting your babies? Don’t have any tylenol-doped mice to lob at them? You might be in luck, we have a few ideas of what to invasive species that insist on making pests of themselves.
Idea #1: Make Them Into Dinner
Become a part of the “invasivore” movement by ingesting some tasty lionfish (pictured) or asian carp, and by nomming on some kudzu or Japanese knotweed. One “almost serious” invasivore, Rachel Kesel, blogged on the subject and talked to The New York Times:
She said in an interview that she was studying in London when she wrote the post, which grew out of conversations about diet and ecology. “If you really want to get down on conservation you should eat weeds,” she decided. And so she blogged. She now works for the parks department of San Francisco and said she did indeed pursue the vegetable side of the diet she proposed. “I’m really looking forward to some of our spring weeds here,” she said, notably Brassica rapa, also known as field mustard or turnip mustard.
A second, meat-eating invasivore named Jackson Landers has been teaching other ecologically-minded eaters how to hunt and eat local invasive species, including feral pigs, two species of iguana, armadillos, starlings, pigeons, and resident Canada geese.
“When human beings decide that something tastes good, we can take them down pretty quickly,” he said. Our taste for passenger pigeon wiped that species out, he said. What if we developed a similar taste for starlings?
Idea #2: Make Them Into Shoes (or Other Clothes)
The plant is a member of the carrot or parsley family, and as described in a brochure (pdf) from the Michigan Department of Agriculture, 20th century gardeners cultivated the giant for its impressive size and for its stem’s purple coloring. But it soon broke out of gardens and arboretums, its seeds finding soil outside of captivity.
Besides Canada, the plant has also appeared in the northern United States (both east and west) and as far south as Maryland. Ontario officials are concerned with the plants’ continuing spread–it was most recently sighted in Renfrew County–and have urged anyone who spots it to contact them immediately.
Giant Hogweed can grow to almost twenty feet tall and five feet wide, and each plant can produce tens of thousands of seeds. Sap on your skin can give you ugly blisters, the CBC reports, and sap in your eyes could cause blindness.
Jeff Muzzi, manager of forestry services for Renfrew County, told the CBC that, despite its heft, the weed is a stealthy attacker.
“[Exposure] could be inadvertent,” Muzzi said. “You might not even know it’s here, [just] walk into it and happen to break a leaf. The next thing you know, you’ve got these nasty burns.”
Renfrew County officials are attempting to thwart the toxic plant’s leafy grip by distributing pamphlet warnings and, as the CBC reports, through “weed-whacking campaigns.”
Discoblog: The Iron Curtain Kept Invasive Species Out of Eastern Europe
Discoblog: For Guilt-Free Fur, Wear a Coat Made From an Invasive Water Rat
Discoblog: Does Fighting Forest Fires Help Invasive Species?
Discoblog: Crocs Chow Down on Invasive Toads, Instantly Regret It
DISCOVER: Humans vs Animals: Our Fiercest Battles With Invasive Species (gallery)
Images: Wikimedia, Michigan Department of Agriculture
At a time when wearing fur is generally considered a fashion faux pas, designers like Oscar de le Renta and Billy Reid are taking a big fashion risk. They are selling pelts from an unusual source: the nutria.
Ever heard of the nutria? It’s a nocturnal, semi-aquatic rodent that weighs around 12 pounds. It has the body of a beaver, the tail of a rat, the feet of a duck, and it wears its nipples on the sides of its body rather than on its belly. It is also destroying Louisiana’s wetlands.
In the 1930s, Louisiana fur farms imported these animals from Argentina for their supple pelts. Unfortunately, some nutria got loose and made Louisiana’s marshes their new home. As the demand for nutria fur diminished in the 1980s, these animals went from posh fashion statement to ecological pest.
The Cold War didn’t just restrict the movement of people, ideas, and trends in rock n’ roll, according to a new study–it also kept invasive species from moving into Eastern Europe.
Researchers looked at the number of non-native birds present in both Western and Eastern Europe over the past century. Before the Cold War restricted trade on the continent, Western Europe had 36 alien bird species and Eastern Europe had 11. By the time the Berlin Wall fell and the Iron Curtain crumbled, the number of alien birds in Western Europe had increased to 54, but the number in Eastern Europe had declined to five.
A National Geographic blog explains:
“Global trade is a real concern for invasive species, and the lessons we can learn from the Cold War offer a warning flag to developing countries that are now expanding in an international economy,” said Susan Shirley, a research associate in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University.
Australia has a cane toad problem. The little leapers are devastating the Aussie ecosystem (Australia has no native toads). They’re gobbling up native insects and poising any animal that attempts to prey on them. One group thought they had a humane way to stop the toads’ spread—suffocate captured toads by putting them in bags filled with carbon dioxide. But now government officials are saying “not so fast,” and have declared that kill method inhumane. From The Scientist:
The Kimberley Toad Busters (KTB) have been using carbon dioxide exposure to euthanize the toads for five years, successfully eliminating more than half a million pests. But last year, after the cane toad populations made their way into Western Australia (WA), the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) — a department of the WA government — announced that they would not support the use of CO2 until further trials had been done, leaving the KTB nearly weaponless against the rapidly spreading invasion just as the first major wet season rains are starting to fall.
So what does the DEC suggest as a humane way to kill the invasive toads? The agency requests that the Toad Busters use blunt trauma for brain destruction.
Guess it’s time for the Toad Busters to break out their whacking sticks.
Discoblog: Some Animals Need to be More Endangered
Discoblog: Crocs Chow Down on Invasive Toads, Instantly Regret It
Discoblog: To Fight Croc-Killing Toads, Australians Turn to “Cane Toad Golf”
Image: flickr / Sam Fraser-Smith
Fool me with monkeys once, shame on you. Fool me twice… well, Puerto Ricans won’t get fooled again.
Some people on the island commonwealth are up in arms over the proposal by a company called Bioculture Ltd. to make Puerto Rico a major supplier of primates to researchers in the United States. Beyond the ethical issues connected to animal testing, the AP reports, Puerto Ricans have “a bad history with research monkeys”:
The U.S. territory has long struggled to control hundreds of patas monkeys, descendants of primates that escaped in recent decades from research projects and now thrive in the lush tropical environment.
No labs want the patas monkeys because they’re no longer right for research, and many are diseased. There isn’t much demand from zoos, either. So rangers from the island’s Department of Natural Resources trap and kill them.
Bioculture counters that its proposed facility in the mountainous region of Guayama would bring 50 jobs and other economic benefits, like buying fruit from local farms to feed the African monkeys, to a place currently reeling from 16 percent unemployment. Bioculture executive Moses Mark Bushmitz tried to reassure people from the Guyama neighborhood of Carmen, which is near the proposed facility, that their homes would be no more run over with research primates than homes in Cambridge, Mass.:
“You have monkeys in MIT, you have monkeys in Harvard,” Bushmitz said. “So why isn’t it an issue if the monkey will escape in Harvard, but it is an issue if a monkey will escape in Carmen?”
To be fair, though, there isn’t a history of monkeys that “run though backyards, stop traffic and destroy crops” in Harvard Yard.
Discoblog: Are “Microlungs” the End of Lab Rat Experiments?
Discoblog: Muriqui Monkeys, However Gentle, Will Kill to Mate
80beats: NASA’s Plan to Irradiate Monkeys Raises Cruelty Concerns
Image: flickr /Mr. Theklan
A leading British conservationist is reportedly playing the “eco-xenophobia” card. While the Brits ramp up their campaign to weed out so-called “alien species” (aka “not native to Britain”) like gray squirrels, parakeets, and rhododendrons, Ian Rotherham, Director of the Environmental Change Research Unit at Sheffield Hallam University, is saying not so fast. He believes that these foreign species attract extra attention simply because they ain’t from ’round here, and that they are no more harmful than any other creatures on British soil.
The London Guardian quotes Rotherham on his reasoning:
“I’ve coined the term ‘Eco-xenophobia’ to stress the idea that we are making judgements not through objectively supported science but through mistaken ideas of what is native, what is alien, and hence what is good or bad,” he said. “Many of these ideas and concepts are very recent and disguise real and serious issues of problem species and of sustainable land management and custodianship. What’s worse perhaps, is that they resonate with ideas growing with the [British National Party] in the UK, and with other right wing groups across Europe.”
The Department for the Environment, however says that invasive species cost the British economy at least £2billion a year, so yeah, they are kind of a problem.
The New York Times reported back in January on one way the Brits are culling their vermin—squirrel soup and pie, anyone?
Discoblog: Attack of the Robosquirrels
Discoblog: Mammals Attack the Middle East, Part II
DISCOVER Gallery: Conservation Cuisine: Is Vermin the Meat of the Future?
Image: flickr / infomatique