Thursday, November 29, 2012

Galapagos and Rats

As we have been discussing in great detail the role that invasive species play in their non-native ecosystems, I thought this particular story rather apropos. The Galapagos Islands hold a special significance to all of us interested in biodiversity, and they are being overtaken. “With what?” you ask? With rats. Apparently there are 10 rats per square meter totally around 180 million rodents. All of which are eating the eggs of reptiles and birds, they have almost decimated the endemic populations. According to Linda Cayot of the Gal├ípagos Conservancy, "they have decimated 100% of tortoise hatchlings for the past 100 years."

So what is being done to save this delicate ecosystem? They are dropping 22 tones of rat poison by the end of the month. When I first read this I was appalled, and while I’m still not convinced I’m at least more on board than in the beginning. A company called Bell Laboratories in the United States created the poison to be contained in small, blue cubes, which disintegrate after about a week. I wonder what happens to the poison inside the cubes? Does it merely evaporate? (I couldn’t find any scientific data on the poison itself.) They also claim than the cubes are attractive to rats but somehow repel other animals. Bell has also taken into consideration the sensibilities of the other animal residents and asserts that the poison contains a strong anti-coagulant to help desiccate the rats faster and avoid the smell. (Eeew.) In preparation for the drop authorities have removed hawks and iguanas.

The introduction of the poison will be in steps, in order to increase the likelihood of killing all the rats; if even one pregnant female is left the whole operation is moot. This is all following a 30-year project to remove the rats, with authorities going from island to island. If this particular intervention is successful they will move on to bigger islands.

Galapagos Flightless Cormorant.....endemic and awesome.
The Galapagos Islands are extremely important in the realm of conservation, with endemic and endangered species counting on human intervention to fix some of our past wrongs. As we discussed in class we live in a world where humans come in contact with nature, so conservation efforts must include us. While dropping poison onto a pristine habitat is extreme and rather harsh, if it gets rid of the rats it seems worth it.

For more information.....

The Guardian
The Associated Press

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