Australia’s Native Wildlife Struggles Against Invasive Species

The largest driver of native species loss in Australia is invasives, but innovative approaches might be able to help.

Invasive species are one of the leading causes of extinction around the world. This could not be more true than in Australia where research published in the Pacific Conservation Biology journal in September suggested that the risk invasive species pose to native flora and fauna is so alarming it ranks above climate change, land clearing, and energy production.

The Guava (Rhodomyrtus psidioides) is just one example of a native species on the brink of extinction in Australia. Though one might be quick to assume climate change or land clearing to be the culprit; it is due to the invasive fungi myrtle. Its ruthless trek across the country could ultimately lead to the extinction of the Guava. Botanist Rod Fensham of The University of Queensland commented: 

We might be the last people on earth to take a sample of an Australian native Guava in flower.” 

A native Guava in flower. Credit: Tiffany

Australia is an island large in size and prior to the arrival of the Europeans sometime during the 1600s, it was also largely isolated from the outside world and the introduction of non-native species. So, it isn’t surprising that Professor John Woinarski of Charles Darwin University, says Australia’s geographical location and size leave it “poorly prepared” to handle the introduction of invasive species. Europeans introduced several harmful invasives including: rabbits, deer, foxes, horses, pigs, and cats. Australia’s native wildlife was left highly vulnerable to predation and competition by these invasive species.

Andrew Cox, chief executive of the Invasive Species Council explained:  

As a result, we have a higher extinction rate of native mammals than anywhere else in the world.”  

 This should be an important clue to how integral protecting biodiversity on islands is to the mission of conservation within a global context. More native species are lost on islands due to invasive species than any other threat. In Australia alone, there are some 207 invasive plants, 57 animals, and 3 pathogens that are believed to be impacting a whopping 1,257 threatened native species. As Andrew points out,  

Invasives are the major driver of species loss, so if we are worried about extinctions, then we should worry about invasives.” 

The outlook may seem bleak, but there is a glimmer of hope as cutting edge technologies seek to assist in saving native flora and fauna; restoring habitats to their natural state in the process. The Centre for Invasive Species Solutions are spearheading a number of potentially novel research projects that include the development of “intelligent” traps that have the capability of discerning between different species as well as DNA techniques that will help researchers to detect invasive species presence more quickly. 

These techniques might be beneficial to the Guava as well. Research published in the European Journal of Plant Pathology in March 2018 outlined a potentially effective early detection method that showed promise in both laboratory and field settings.  These are just a few of the ways scientists are seeking to conserve and protect native species and with continued innovation, we might see a brighter future for Australia and ultimately, the world.

Featured photo: Moonlit Milky Way – Pinnacles Desert, Western Australia Credit: Trevor Dobson
Source: The Guardian

About Stephanie Dittrich

Stephanie Dittrich is a current senior in Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz and a transfer student from De Anza College. She is also currently pursuing a Certificate of Achievement in Geospatial Technologies and a second Associates Degree in Graphic Design from Foothill College. She has worked in multiple marketing and design focused roles at environmental nonprofits as well as the Genomics Institute at UC Santa Cruz. She just finished spending 3 months in Costa Rica conducting field work where she did an independent research project and wrote a scientific paper about flight response time in the Morpho peleides butterfly. In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys working on creative photography and design projects, often centered around wildlife photography, as well as more experimental and contemporary subject matter.

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