Scientific evidence and feral species control

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This week’s featured research article has just been published in Nature Ecology and Evolution and highlights the importance of scientific evidence and independent assessments when deciding whether to control or eradicate invasive species. Increasingly, large-scale invasive species control initiatives are being proposed worldwide. As early as 2018, a herpes virus will be released in Australia’s largest river system, targeting invasive common carp. As part of its Threatened Species Strategy, Australia is also planning to kill two million feral cats. Meanwhile, new gene editing technology has made the continental-scale eradication of invasive species a real possibility, for example by implementing gene drives that reduce breeding success. It offers new potential solutions to some of the world’s worst environmental, agricultural and human health problems. These schemes will be implemented across large and complex social-ecological systems, and some options – like releasing a virus or genetically engineered species – may be irreversible. This paper highlights a series of considerations that should be addressed before investing in large-scale invasive species control. The researchers state that fundamentally, there must be a demonstrable ecological and social benefit from control or eradication, above and beyond the purely ideological. This means addressing the full range of human pressures which negatively affect biodiversity. The paper outlines that we must also consider how removing an influential invasive species could benefit other invasive species, harm native species through increased predation and competition, or alter ecological processes or habitat. The researchers conclude that comprehensive risk-benefit assessment of invasive species control programs allow decision-makers to proactively avoid, manage or accept these risks. These risks could be acceptable if the virus is effective, and allows native species a window of opportunity to recover. The article can be downloaded here.