Striking back at biological invaders

September 16, 1999

Lurking in the water ballast of an ocean-going ship, hiding in a packing crate, or deliberately imported to satisfy a human desire, exotic species are routinely transported into new habitats where they can invade and disrupt native ecosystems. A special news section in the 17 September issue of Science provides an exclusive look at how scientists around the world are learning to predict and fight these biological invasions.

As we shrink the size of the Earth with advances in technology, trade, and travel, our fellow plant and animal inhabitants are coming along for the ride, often with disastrous consequences. Invasive species have already left their mark on the United States, where biological invasions are the second largest cause of biodiversity loss. Will the continued march of exotic species across the globe result in the domination of a few widely successful species? One news article reports on this possibility of a "global McEcosystem," and discusses how ecologists attempt to predict the next invader and invasion site.

A second report highlights how researchers are fighting against exotic species that have already made themselves at home. From poisoning an entire marina in Australia to stop a pesky mussel, to pushing for stricter regulations on imported plants and animals, scientists and governments are using a diverse arsenal in the battle against the invaders. As this story reports, these tactics have had varying success and support.

Some of the special weapons used against eco-invaders are other biological agents, touted as the "natural" way to combat invasive species. In these cases, predators from an exotic species' homeland are imported and released to subdue the invader, like the weevil brought in to take on the tumbleweed in the western United States. A third news story reports on the increasing demand for biocontrol and why some scientists are worried that these new recruits will also run wild and compound the existing problem.

Science's special news section also takes a closer look at some specific stories from the front lines of the biological invasion war. These stories focus on efforts to provide native habitat protection areas for the fragile Hawaiian ecosystem, how the British invasion of the nutria (a South American rodent) was stopped in its tracks, and why a planned viral infection of Australia's rabbit population was an ecological success but a public relations nightmare.
Authors: Martin Enserink, Elizabeth Finkel, Jocelyn Kaiser, David Malakoff, Erik Stokstad, Richard Stone

Science issue 17 September 1999

The cover of the 17 September issue of Science is related to this special news package and can be found at EurekAlert! (


American Association for the Advancement of Science

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