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Invasive pests

Many invasive pests necessary for pollination of plants, eliminating them could cause global devastation

Saturday, December 10, 2011 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: invasive pests, pollination, plants

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(NaturalNews) Native pollinators like birds and bats are becoming extinct in some areas of the world, and this loss is wreaking major havoc on many of the world's ecosystems. But new research published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B has found that non-native animals, which are typically viewed as undesirable and destructive pests, are actually pollinators themselves -- and eliminating them could cause further devastation of plants and food crops than has already occurred.

Dr. David Pattemore and his colleague David Wilcove, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs at Princeton University, recently set out to learn more about non-native animals and their role in ecosystem management and restoration. What they found is shocking in that, though destructive en masse, these invasive "pests" actually take on the role of former pollinators that have since become extinct -- and in some cases, they actually do the job better.

Case in point is New Zealand's North Island, an area where native vertebrate pollinator species have become largely extinct, and that has become overrun with invasive pests like ship rats and silvereye birds. Compared to plants on Little Barrier Island, another area of New Zealand where native pollinating vertebrates are still intact, plants on North Island were found to still be getting pollinated in the same way, but instead by the non-native pests.

"These foreign species performed some of the same functions as the locally extinct native pollinators and, in the case of the New Zealand honeysuckle and Veronica macrocarpa, the rats and silvereyes provided pollination services as good or better than the endemic vertebrates," said Wilcove. "Ironically, ship rats are believed to be a major cause of the loss of New Zealand's native vertebrates. So, essentially the killer stepped in to do the job of its victim."

Controlling invasive species is still necessary, however, as they obviously can overrun ecosystems and destroy native species. But the extent to which they should be controlled has now been called into question, thanks to the duo's game-changing discovery.

"[O]ur findings show that eliminating an invasive species for the benefit of native species could actually harm an ecosystem, a surprising dynamic that could frustrate ecosystem restoration efforts," added Wilcove.

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