Quantifying the invasive species problem, Florida´s case: 137 non-native reptiles & amphibians

Invasive species in FloridaLast week we took a look at the slowness of species migration before the age of the 747. Today we speed up time by a thousand – to get to the ecological reality of globalisation.

In close to 150 years man has brought an overwhelming number of non-native species to the ecosystems of Florida. Overwhelming that is to local populations of amphibians and reptiles. There for instance used to be 16 different lizard species in the Sunshine State, which now have to deal with 43 exotic lizard species – each hoping to find a niche in the food chain, without [but what do they know of Ecology] leading to its collapse.

Apart from the invasive lizards 4 types of snakes, 4 types of turtles, 3 types of frogs and one non-native caiman were named in a special publication in the journal Zootaxa, by researchers of the University of Florida. They estimate that between 1863 and 2010 in total 137 reptiles and amphibians have been introduced.

More species? What’s the problem?

Although with all these nicely coloured frogs, turtles and lizards joining in on the party from all continents, locally it may seem like biodiversity is increasing, on a global scale the introduction of invasive species speeds up extinction rates. Remember the amphibian fungal plague we spoke of yesterday? That’s a global problem too, for which global amphibian biodiversity is relevant.

It’s like that clever idea of shipping the polar bears from the Arctic to the South Pole when all the ice is gone up north. First all the penguins would be eaten, and then the polar bears would starve. You always lose more than you gain.

Have you seen your neighbour’s pets lately?

One more remarkable detail the researchers share is that 25 percent of the invasive amphibians and reptiles were introduced to wildlife via one single animal importer, who among other species shipped many thousands of chameleons from Kenya.

Thus far in Florida no one has been prosecuted for introducing any invasive animal. Although it is prohibited, offenders would have to be caught in the act.

© Rolf Schuttenhelm | www.bitsofscience.org

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