Managing Invasive Species Around the World – Successes, Failures, and Hope for the Future
Since the European colonization of Australia, invasive species have been spread throughout the country and have caused extensive damage to native wildlife, agriculture, and even human health. Conservationists have tried a myriad of ways to address these problems, from building fences to protect ecosystems to introducing diseases intended to control invasive species populations. Sometimes these solutions work, and other times they fail. One thing is certain: invasive species are damaging to native ecosystems.
Conservationists around the world are constantly looking to the horizon to see what new ideas and technologies will emerge to help prevent extinctions of native wildlife. Andy Sheppard, Research Director at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is looking to the future to see if new technologies will bring about the advances we need to curb the extinction crisis.
New Zealand Predator Free 2050 initiative seeks to protect native and endemic wildlife by removing four of the nation’s most damaging invasive predators. This lofty goal will require advances in technology, but its success will pave the way for regions around the world where invasive predators threaten island species. Australia has applied a variety of techniques over the past decades to curb the effects of invasive species. Protecting islands has been key to their strategy, as have predator-free enclosures, but invasive species remain a serious threat to the nation’s biological diversity.
Andy Sheppard highlights the potential for the use of gene drive technology to play a role in the removal of invasive species in New Zealand and on islands around the world. Gene drives have the potential to save island species from invasive predators such as rats. Researchers are exploring a technique of editing rodent genes in order to produce either all-male or all-female offspring, which, once released onto an island, would effectively self-eliminate the rodent population. Island Conservation, CSIRO, and partners have developed the Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents (GBIRd) program and are working to investigate the potential applications for gene drives in the prevention of extinctions of island species.