The unstoppable force of the invasive species

Whether it is a fish, a frog, or a weed, foreign species can have dramatic effects

invasive species

Today, the African snail is a plague that has spread all over Latin America invading 24 states in Brazil. They have also found their way into Venezuela, Colombia, Paraguay, Argentina, Ecuador, and Peru presenting a threat to agriculture and public health.

Educational campaigns have helped locals identify and understand the effects of the African snail. They have been taught that before any attempt of elimination, the use of gloves is a must when manipulating the snails since they are known to be hosts for nematode worms that can cause many types of meningitis. Also, it has been recommended that each snail should always be disposed of in their own plastic bag.

On the other hand, there also seems to be a proliferation of the lionfish in the Caribbean. During the last 10 years, its population has been become a growing threat to the ecology of the tropical marine ecosystems. This fish can cause damage to coral reefs, seagrass, and mangroves due to their reproduction capacity and lack of predators.

However, as an effort to help reduce and hopefully eradicate the lionfish from this region, marine parks and governments have given the green light to citizens to kill them off on sight. Also, lionfish has become appealing to the gastronomical sector of society thusly stimulating their commercial demand.

In some cases, the alien plant or animal feeds off native species until pushing them into disappearance. Others can displace the native organisms from their habitat and, in more than one occasion, these new habitants live without natural predators and can easily reproduce in the area.

In the case of Chile, the European wasp represent one of the most notorious invasive species. These insects arrived on cargo transporting not only machines but also a nest of these unwanted guests. They found their way into the country’s ecosystem and became a fierce depredator of the native bees responsible for the natural pollination cycle of flowers.

Also, researchers have found that one the most dangerous alien species of Chile is the yellow glandweed, an annual herb native to the Mediterranean region which has already spread into 10 provinces within 48 years. "In our view, particular attention should be paid to shrubs and trees”, assured Dr. Nicol Fuentes. "Species like the elmleaf blackberry (Rubus ulmifolius), sweet briar rose (Rosa rubiginosa), and silver wattle (Acacia dealbata) will be difficult to eradicate because they are widespread. However, we're still optimistic regarding the Portuguese broom (Cytisus striatus), which is only just starting to spread”, explained Fuentes.

Since the formation of the Andes mountain range, it has functioned as a natural barrier between the western and eastern part of South America. However, the highlands have been become more porous due to the expansion of traffic lines between countries, specially Chile and Argentina. This makes all countries bordering said nation vulnerable to the spread of unwanted species.

Although they are a difficult to exterminate, Silvia Ziller, an expert on biodiversity, stated that the region still has various opportunities to prevent becoming heavily affected by this issue. However, the matter needs to be addressed adequately in order to determine the extent of its effects in local biodiversity.

Invasive species in Latin America are not new and the topic is certainly not foreign but experts have joined forces to prevent further damages to the ecosystems.

LatinAmerican Post | Laura Iguavita
Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto

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