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.
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.
“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 1143⁄2014 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)