AboutZoos, Since 2008


Denial of inva­sive species threat wor­ries scientists

pub­lished 02 Decem­ber 2016 | mod­i­fied 27 Decem­ber 2016

Sci­en­tists believe a new bat­tle­front is open­ing in sci­ence denial­ism and this time the tar­get is the sci­ence of inva­sive alien species and the fight to pro­tect some of the world’s rarest species and most unique ecosystems.

Raccoon dog in DenmarkRac­coon dog (Nyc­tereutes pro­cy­onoides) in Den­mark — taken with a wildlife cam­era trap. Pho­tog­ra­pher: Lars Osten­feld;
Source: NOBA­NIS — Euro­pean Net­work on Inva­sive Alien Species

In the sci­ence jour­nal Trends in Ecol­ogy and Evo­lu­tion, con­ser­va­tion biol­o­gists Dr James Rus­sell of the Uni­ver­sity of Auck­land and Pro­fes­sor Tim Black­burn of Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Lon­don say sci­en­tific evi­dence on inva­sion biol­ogy is under attack, with much of the oppo­si­tion value-​based rather than science-​based. The arti­cle was pub­lished online on 22 November.

What we are see­ing, Dr Rus­sell says, is a rejec­tion of estab­lished sci­en­tific fact along with an attempt to re-​frame, down­play or even deny the role of inva­sive alien species in global envi­ron­men­tal change.

Sci­en­tists have often not been very good at com­mu­ni­cat­ing their work, and our empha­sis has too often been on only con­vey­ing facts. So there is a need for us to talk clearly and more often about not just the sci­en­tific evi­dence but about why this issue [of inva­sive alien species] is so impor­tant for all of us
Dr James Rus­sell, co-​author, School of Bio­log­i­cal Sci­ences and Depart­ment of Sta­tis­tics, Uni­ver­sity of Auck­land, New Zealand »

Cur­rently there is a lot of talk about liv­ing in a post-​truth world, and, as sci­en­tists, we don’t want to appear pre­cious or to over­re­act. But we do see a man­u­fac­tur­ing of sci­en­tific con­tro­versy on an issue where, in fact, no con­tro­versy exists,” he says.

Instead, there is and has long been a con­sen­sus between the world’s lead­ing ecol­o­gists on harm­ful effects of inva­sive species and this is not in dis­pute — at least not among the vast major­ity of scientists.”

Dr Rus­sell cites recent arti­cles in high-​profile inter­na­tional news out­lets such as the New York Times, New Sci­en­tist and The Econ­o­mist ques­tion­ing the sci­ence of inva­sive species management.

But the ques­tion­ing is also com­ing from other sci­en­tists, with a num­ber of pub­lished aca­d­e­mic papers and books tak­ing aim at inva­sive species biol­o­gists and their work.

In response, Dr Rus­sell and col­leagues have come up with a list of 24 spe­cific chal­lenges that inva­sion biol­ogy faces along with some pro­posed solutions.

Those chal­lenges include ensur­ing that suc­cesses in man­age­ment, such as erad­i­ca­tion of inva­sive pests from islands, are highlighted.

Sci­en­tists have often not been very good at com­mu­ni­cat­ing their work, and our empha­sis has too often been on only con­vey­ing facts. So there is a need for us to talk clearly and more often about not just the sci­en­tific evi­dence but about why this issue is so impor­tant for all of us,” says Dr Russell.

The issue of inva­sive alien species is often bet­ter under­stood in New Zealand where our unique native bio­di­ver­sity is often linked with a sense of national iden­tity, he says.

All the same, in the Euro­pean Union Reg­u­la­tion 11432014 on inva­sive alien species entered into force on 1 Jan­u­ary 2015. This Reg­u­la­tion seeks to address the prob­lem of inva­sive alien species in a com­pre­hen­sive man­ner so as to pro­tect native bio­di­ver­sity and ecosys­tem ser­vices, as well as to min­i­mize and mit­i­gate the human health or eco­nomic impacts that these species can have. The Reg­u­la­tion fore­sees three types of inter­ven­tions: pre­ven­tion, early detec­tion and rapid erad­i­ca­tion, and management.

Non-​native, medium-​sized preda­tors are among the most prob­lem­atic IAS, par­tic­u­larly oppor­tunis­tic species that will take the eas­i­est vari­ety of prey, which may include species of con­ser­va­tion con­cern. The Amer­i­can mink, the Rac­coon and the Rac­coon dog already have large, well-​established pop­u­la­tions in main­land Europe, which need to be man­aged. It is impor­tant to limit their fur­ther spread, par­tic­u­larly onto islands and vul­ner­a­ble habi­tats. The Rac­coon is a known vec­tor of sev­eral dis­eases, includ­ing the rac­coon round­worm, which is poten­tially lethal for humans.
(Fact sheet on Inva­sive Alien Specie in Europe by Birdlife International)

(Source: Uni­ver­sity of Auck­land press release, 24.11.2016; web­site Euro­pean Com­mis­sion on Inva­sive Alien Species)

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