Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dr. Ian Malcolm would not like this

Forgive my Malcolm-esque skepticism, but this "solution" to Australia's cane toad problem sounds like a bad idea:

Native animals, such as quolls, goannas, snakes and crocodiles, that eat the toads usually suffer an agonising death. The bigger the toad, the greater the dose of its poison, and the greater the chance the predator will die.

Lab work by Rick Shine at Sydney University and his team shows, though, that if an animal eats a small cane toad and manages to survive, it doesn't usually repeat the mistake. "It's astonishing how quickly fish, frogs and some small mammals are learning to avoid the toads after a bad experience," Shine says.

He now proposes taking advantage of this by releasing baby, sterile male "teacher toads", in advance of the invasion front. Native animals that ate these small toads would probably vomit up their meal, but survive – and should then steer clear of the larger, deadlier toads when they arrive....For good measure, he says, the teacher toads could also be infected with a lung worm parasite that targets only the toads so that they won't start invading themselves.

Clearly, I am no expert here, but what percentage of intentionally released non-native species has worked out as expected? Why do I get a feeling that ten years from now we'll be reading about Australia's native amphibians succumbing to an invasive lung worm parasite, yet "surprisingly" the cane toads will still be around and poisoning the native wildlife?

Perhaps this is just my knee-jerk bias against introducing non-natives to an area rearing its ugly head - as one commenter suggested when I wrote about Pleistocene rewilding - but I don't see how adding more cane toads to the picture is a sustainable solution.

As reported in New Scientist


SFMatheson said...

Since these folks seem not have learned anything from Ian Malcolm, it's probably silly to wonder whether they've read enough Stephen Jay Gould to know about the destruction of one of the biggest studies of evolution (in the wild) ever undertaken, by the extinction of the species of interest. If only human idiocy were under such intense selection pressure...

Jim Lemire said...

I think it comes down to the "quick fix" mentality. Repercussions and consequences be damned, if they're considered at all. People are very arrogant as well (consciously or not) thinking that they can "control" a natural system or process. Never seems to work though.