Saturday, May 30, 2009

Invasive Species War : Ecological Meltdown

Tiny Macquarie Island, in the South Ocean,
somewhere between Antartica and Australia

This science story in the Los Angeles Times blew us away. When seal hunting sailors arrived at the Macquarie Island around 1810, rats and mice casually debarked onto the island. These rats and mice attacked the local food stores. So on the next trips sailors brought cats, to stop the proliferation of mice. Next, a common tradition, they brought rabbits to provide stranded sailors with food. The cats, brought to catch the mice and rats, swiftly killed thousands of rabbits and totally exterminated the islands birds. Uncontained, the remaining rabbits slowly stripped the island of vegetation causing perilous erosion.

To control the rabbits, scientists brought fleas infected with the Myxomatosis virus! As the rabbit population was reduced, the cats, with no rabbits to eat, grew hungry and began attacking a new, burrowing bird population. To stop this, the scientists shot all the cats. Once the cats were gone, the few remaining rabbits, despite the virus, began proliferating, again. With the rabbits eating vegetation to excess, the island erosion increased, causing landslides. Now, it looks like the island may slide into the sea, endangering the rare penguin population.

But, wait! To prevent the island's demise, the scientists are now going to eradicate all the rabbits, mice and rats remaining on the island, a process that could cost at least $16 million and take years. We kid you not!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

crazy cycle of destruction