"Invasive species are the greatest extinction threat to animal populations world-wide—and scientists are using new tools to combat them.
In July, the New Zealand government announced its intention to eradicate all rats, stoats and possums from the entire country by 2050 to save native birds such as the kiwi. It’s an ambitious plan, perhaps impossible to pull off with the methods available today, but it’s a stark reminder that invasive alien species today constitute perhaps the greatest extinction threat to animal populations world-wide.
Birdlife International, a charity that works to save endangered birds, reckons that of the 140 bird species confirmed to have gone extinct since 1500, invasive alien species were a factor in the demise of at least 71—an impact greater than hunting, logging, agriculture, fire or climate change."
Here are some of the essay's suggestive "solutions":
"The best way to fight invasive aliens is often with other aliens: Go back to their native country, find an insect or fungus that eats them, and bring it in to help. Early horror stories when alien predators introduced to control alien prey turned on native wildlife instead—cane toads in Australia, stoats in New Zealand—have given way to much more cautious and careful scientific introductions of highly specific control organisms. Done right, such biological control is indispensable.
Vaccines that cause sterility are another promising weapon. Spreading food coated with such a vaccine could render a species sterile, causing its numbers to fall. This approach is working well in the lab with pigs—invasive species in various places—and may soon help to fight gray squirrels in Britain.
Genomics is the latest weapon. The Aedes mosquito that spreads dengue and zika in the Americas is an invasive alien, from Africa. A biotech firm called Oxitec has devised a way of suppressing its population using mass releases of genetically modified males (males don’t bite), which father offspring that cannot mature. In trials in Brazil, this method has achieved more than 90% suppression of numbers."
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