Invasive alien species threaten Pacific region, says study

February 19th, 2010 - 10:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Suva (Fiji), Feb 19 (IANS) Fiji and other countries in the Pacific region are facing a serious threat from alien invasive species, the Global Invasive Species Programme (GISP), an association of scientists and NGOs dedicated to addressing the problem, said in a report Friday.
The report listed a number of alien species that are a threat to life on earth.

“Unfortunately a number of these (alien species) now exist in the South Pacific islands,” Don Stewart, regional director of the NGO BirdLife International in the Pacific, said at the launch of the publication.

Birdlife is a partner in GISP, Xinhua reported.

Invasive alien species are plants and animals not native to the South Pacific countries but have been introduced either through trade, or through “misguided” attempts to protect local flora and fauna.

The publication names 542 species documented as invasive aliens in 57 countries, including 316 plants, 101 marine organisms, 44 freshwater fish, 43 mammal, 23 bird and 15 amphibian species.

An increase in the number and spread of alien species, which adversely affect the habitats they invade, is attributed to a substantial rise in international trade over the past 25 years.

New Zealand alone is host to 222 invasive alien species.

In the Pacific region, the list of the alien species is substantial and includes rats, snakes, cats, ants, mongooses, freshwater fishes, and weeds like miconia and wedelia.

“Alien Invasive species ‘take over’ space and resources of animals and plants that belong in the Pacific,” said Stewart.

“They also often eat native species, like birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish. This can lead to native or endemic birds and other animals going extinct,” said Stewart.

Randy Thaman, professor of biogeography at the University of the South Pacific endorsed these comments and added: “Invasive alien species are highly destructive and have led to the serious deterioration of unique Pacific island ecosystems.”

“But alien species can also have a significant economic impact,” he added.

Of all animals that have become extinct since 1800, 90 percent were island birds.

BirdLife International operates a programme, currently funded by the British government and David and Lucile Packard Foundation, to remove rats from islands in the Pacific that continue to pose a serious threat to seabird populations.

As part of the programme, rats have been removed from 17 biologically important islands in Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Palau.

Stewart said these efforts have been a major benefit to the region’s wildlife and also protected crops from damage and prevented drinking water contamination.

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