Invasive species removal on islands is one of the most promising conservation methods around today, but there are limits to current tools and methods. Innovative gene editing techniques show promising potential for bird conservation and communities on islands around the world.
Scattered throughout the world’s oceans, islands host the greatest concentration of biodiversity species extinctions. Thankfully, conservationists and researchers around the world are constantly striving to develop new methods to help prevent extinctions and give species a much-needed boost.
Islands are home to 19% of global avian biodiversity and 41% of Critically Endangered and Endangered terrestrial vertebrates with invasive species as the leading cause of extinction. Today, invasive species removal is one of the most impactful interventions available for protecting island ecosystems and preventing extinctions but still, bird populations are declining due to the limits of our current conservation tools.
These limits provide an opportunity for innovative new ideas to address the threats that island species face and expand the possibilities for plants, animals, and human communities that could benefit from invasive-free islands. One such innovative technique is the use of gene drive technology to remove invasive rodents from islands which consume native birds, eggs, and vegetation. This emerging field of research is providing hope for species around the world, but to develop the technology conservationists and researchers are engaging the conservation community to raise awareness and encourage discussion around its potential uses.
Later this week, at the 27th International Ornithological Congress, Island Conservation, the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), and Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents (GBIRd) are hosting and a roundtable discussion on the potential impacts of innovative gene editing technologies on bird conservation. The panelists aim to facilitate a transparent discussion of the potential benefits and challenges gene drive technology poses. Attendees are encouraged to express their thoughts, concerns, and questions surrounding the application of these new technologies to the conservation field.
Although these new developments appear daunting, conservationists and researchers are excited to uncover the potential benefits these technologies can have for plants, animals, and communities on islands around the world; and to see on a case-by-case basis, if they could be safely applied.