57.4 Brazilian Forest Fragments Studied for Species Loss
Isolated patches lost species much more quickly than patches connected to the main forest. Even the larger patches, such as the one in the foreground, were too small to maintain populations of some species.
ter. Weed seeds have been carried around the world accidentally in sacks of crop seeds. Europeans deliberately introduced rabbits and foxes to Australia for sport hunting. Nearly half of the small to medium-sized marsupials and rodents of Australia have been exterminated during the last 100 years by a combination of competition with introduced rabbits and predation by introduced domestic cats and foxes.
Some pathogens have proliferated quickly following their introduction to new continents. Exotic disease-causing organisms have decimated populations of several eastern North American forest trees. The chestnut blight, caused by a European fungus, virtually eliminated the American chestnut, formerly an abundant tree in Appalachian Mountain forests. Nearly all American elms over large areas of the East and Midwest have been killed by Dutch elm disease, caused by the fungus Ceratocystis ulmi, which reached North America in 1930. Ecologists suspect that intercontinental movement of disease organisms caused extinctions in the past, but evidence of such disease outbreaks is not usually preserved in the fossil record.
The best way to reduce the damage caused by invasive species is to prevent their establishment in the first place. For example, the shipping industry often spreads invasive species (bacteria, dinoflagellates, invertebrates, and fish) in ballast water, which is pumped into a ship at one port and discharged at another. (That is how zebra mussels were introduced into North America from Europe, as we saw in Chapter 54.) San Francisco Bay is now home to at least 234 exotic species, most of which arrived in ballast water, and some of them are displacing native species. Controlling invasive aquatic species costs millions of dollars per year, but transport of invasive species in ballast water could largely be eliminated by the simple procedure of deoxygenating ballast water before it is pumped out. This practice both kills most organisms in the water and extends the life of ballast tanks.
Strict rules already govern the deliberate introduction of animal species, but the introduction of ornamental plants is poorly regulated. In 1998, Australia and New Zealand began to require a weed risk assessment for the importation of plants not already in the country or not on a "clean list" of permitted species. Regulations do not yet exist in the United States, but in 2002 some members of the horticultural industry crafted a voluntary code of conduct for their profession. The code states that the invasive potential of a plant should be assessed prior to introducing and marketing it. Horticulturists work with conservation biologists to determine which species are currently invasive, or likely to become so, and to identify suitable alternative species. Stocks of invasive species will be phased out, and gardeners will be encouraged to use noninvasive plants.
But how can we assess the potential of a species to become invasive? One way is to compare the traits of species that have become invasive when introduced to a new area with those of other species that have not. Such comparisons show that a plant species is more likely to become invasive if it has a short generation time, small seeds, is dispersed by vertebrates, has a large range in its native continent, depends on nonspecific mutualists (root symbionts, pollinators, and seed dispersers), and is not evolutionarily closely related to plants in the area to which it is introduced. The best predictor, however, is whether the species is already known to be invasive elsewhere.
Using the traits that characterize most invasive species, conservation biologists have developed a decision tree to be used to determine whether an exotic species should be introduced into North America (Figure 57.5). Using such a decision tree cannot eliminate the introduction of all potentially invasive species, but if used conscientiously, its application can greatly reduce the risk.
Overexploitation has driven many species to extinction
Until recently, humans caused extinctions primarily by over-hunting. Overexploitation of other species continues today. Elephants and rhinoceroses are threatened in Africa because poachers kill them for their tusks and horns, which are used for ornaments and knife handles, and because some men believe that powdered rhinoceros horn enhances their sexual potency. Massive international trade in pets, ornamental plants, and tropical forest hardwoods has decimated many species of orchids, tropical fishes, corals, parrots, and reptiles.
Does the species invade elsewhere, outside of North America?
Is it an interspecific hybrid with known seed sterility?
Is it native to parts of North America other than the region of the proposed introduction?
Was this article helpful?
Put an end to the disappointment, frustration and embarrassment of... Erectile Dysfunction. Have Sex Like You are 18 Years Old Again. Have a natural powerfully stiff penis. Eject volumes of semen. Do it again and again night after night. Never make another excuse for not being able to get it up.