Daring animals hitchhike to colonise new lands

October 24th, 2011 - 3:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Oct 24 (IANS) Hitchhiking, believed to be the preserve of poets and wanderers, is also an activity undertaken by daring animals to explore and colonise new lands.

David Chapple, Bob Wong and Sarah Simmonds from Monash University’s School of Biological Sciences, have conducted a couple of complementary studies on invasive species.

“Not only do animals need to be in the right place at the right time in order to be inadvertently transported by humans, but they also need to be able to survive the often harsh and lengthy journey inside consignments of freight,” said Chapple, according to the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

“When they arrive at the new destination, the stowaways have to contend with being strangers in a strange land and successfully adapt to new environments. In the face of these challenges, the new colonists must also thrive and reproduce before spreading out across the landscape,” he added, according to a Monash statement.

Wong said it was the ability to overcome these significant hurdles that makes successful invaders a formidable threat to native wildlife.

“The incidence and impact of unintentional invasion is increasing with globalisation - as we encroach further and further into the natural environment, animals have had more opportunities to jump on board our various transports.

“Given this increase, and the potential impact on biodiversity, it’s important that we understand this phenomenon better.

“Personality and behavioural traits are an important and, to date, unexplored component of the success of these species’ invasions,” Wong concluded.

Simmonds said the researchers examined whether personality differences between two species of garden skinks in eastern Australia could explain why one of the species has managed to spread overseas and the other has not.

“Our research found that the successful skink invader was bolder and tended to be more exploratory, thereby increasing its chances of entering cargo ships.

“Once on board, the lizards’ tendency to hide probably helps them evade biosecurity checks and reach their destination undetected,” Simmonds said.

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