CSR Projects with One Earth Foundation

Alien invasions, extinctions and Citizen Scientists

CSR extinctions and Citizen ScientistsA lush green forest, beautiful climbers adorning every inch of the landscape, a placid water body filled with purple flowers, golden stripes adorning the back of a shiny wise faced frog. Sounds quite like the setting of a fairy tale or more likely a glimpse into the landscape of rapidly vanishing species. From invasive alien climber species to water hyacinth to exotic amphibians, the march of species across their native ecosystems is causing a “trophic cascading” effect in the wild.

If you still don’t get the intensity of the issue, consider this – since the 17th century, invasive alien species have contributed to nearly 40% of all animal extinctions for which the cause is known (CBD, 2006).

Imagine earth being invaded by alien population, relatively superior to us who apparently has an appetite for human brains. Due to the lack of natural predators and ample amount of resources, they would proliferate, outnumber us and end up in the extinction of the human race, and they would develop taste for other appetites and this would go on until there is nothing left and they perish or decide to go back to their own planets.

The picture is not very different across ecosystems and continents on Earth. Note this

• Native to the Amazon basin, water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) has invaded tropical habitats worldwide spreading to more than 50 countries on five continents. The result – water blockages, the decimation of aquatic life, loss of livelihoods, the spread of disease, etc.

• Native to the Indian sub-continent, the ship rat (Rattus rattus) have caused extinctions and catastrophic declines of native birds on islands and have spread throughout the world

• In Australia, toads were imported in 1935 from the Amazon as an experiment to control a beetle that devastated sugar cane crops. That experiment failed, and the toad population multiplied into the millions. They further evolved as more aggressive invaders with a longer reach as they grew longer legs and driving many local species into extinction.

• American settlers wiped out wolves in Yellowstone National Park, causing an increase in herbivores and in turn caused a decrease in plants and loss of bird life.

• Lantana (Lantana camara) has become one of the world’s most invasive weeds. Aggressive extermination measures taken by the governments over the last 200 years have largely failed. Lantana continues to spread and occupies 13 million hectares in India, 5 million in Australia and 2 million in South Africa.

Who is to blame?

According to the convention on biological diversity (October 2008), invasive alien species are plants, animals, pathogens and other organisms that are non-native to an ecosystem, and which may cause economic or environmental harm or adversely affect human health. The absence of natural predators’ results in their exponential growth rate leading to competition between the native species thus disrupting the ecological balance of the particular ecosystem and ultimately leading to the devastation of the biodiversity of that region and thus causing a huge dent in the economy of the region, who depend on the regional resources.

Whereas we have focused on the biological component, the human and anthropogenic element is far more important. It is time we recognized that our planet’s ecosystem has strong and increasing anthropogenic components that are being fed by the expanding globalization of the economy. Humans are moulding ecosystems, making them productive or congenial, incorporating and removing species from all over the world. With growing trade and travel complemented by weak quarantine and customs controls, humans have introduced a large number of alien species into fragile habitats

The definition of Invasive aliens coined by humans intelligently excludes ourselves placing us on the top of the pedestal to supervise and critically examine the effect. Are we ourselves an invasive alien species, trying to ever expand its habitat from the African savannahs to every continent excluding Antarctica and even to other planets, is still a question of debate.

A colossal crisis faces us and we need to find a solution fast. The starting point has to be legislation and regulation of Invasive aliens. The implementation of this needs to be supported by a robust information Network of invasive. Now that’s a challenge as these species are spread wide and across. Options are satellite-based monitoring or field identification and verification. The latter would be more effective and accurate. How will one do this? It’s time we mobilized our app savvy Citizen Scientists. It’s time we developed a web-based App that can be used on handhelds and mobiles empowering each and every user and to upload sightings of invasive. Flora and fauna recognition plugins will be needed and a National Level Invasives map generated. Let’s quantify the problem first……then we move on to containment, eradication & restoration planning & strategies.

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