Florida’s Assault by Invasive Species

Florida’s Assault by Invasive Species

Introduction:

Florida’ s assault of invasive species of foreign origin is a perfect example of the second leading cause of what many scientists describe as the sixth mass extinction.  According to the Center for Biological Diversity the current rate of extinction is 1,000 times greater than it has been compared to the long-term historical rate.  Additionally, the same organization suggest that we could loose 30 -50% of earth’s current species population by the mid twenty first century.

Going one step further, there is little doubt that the direct impact of man is the leading cause for that massive extinction rate.  Deforestation is the most frequently referenced example of man’s direct impact upon the phenomenon.  Likewise, the massive growth of the world’s population and demand for more urban development and forestry conversion into farmland is understandable.  Perhaps less understandable is the unquenchable desire to exploit and profit from the reckless use of the world’s natural resources. 

Right on the heels of man’s direct impact upon the massive extinction rate, according to most scientists, is the impact of invasive species.  Over the world’s history, isolated ecosystems developed in a manner that worked cooperatively.  Despite the fact that agressive species that prey and live upon others, a natural balance seems to have developed.

Two Examples of Invasive Destruction:

Unfortunately, globalization has facilitated the transportation of some exotic species into new ecosystems where they were totally disruptive and destructive.   The Brown Tree Snake is a perfect example.  During the final years of World War II, the increased military action in the pacific accidentally transported the snake to Guam.  Unrestricted by natural predators and restraints, the Brown Tree Snake sowed havoc on the native bird and lizard population to the point that today they are both practically nonexistent.

Spanish explorers introduced domestic hogs to the American scene during the 1500 as a source of feed.  Unfortunately, many of them eventually escaped and proved readily adaptable to feral life.  During the 1900’s some well-intended sportsmen introduced the Eurasian Wild Boar into certain areas of the United States for the purpose of hunting sportsmanship.  Sadly, the wild boars proved to be rather proficient escape artist and quickly added their genetic composition to the feral population that has been growing since the 1500’s. 

The hybrid strain of domestic feral hogs and wild boar has proven to be a surprisingly resilient, fertile, aggressive and a destructive addition to the native wildlife of America.  Do note that the coverage of the feral hog population range was described as American and not just that of the United States.  The reason is that the virulent population quickly stretched from the southern United States northward all the way to Canada.  Along the way the hog population laid waste to farm crops were uprooted without restraint.  The also dined on large populations of snakes, lizards, salamanders and turtles that provided not natural defense against the uninhibited foreign rooters.  Today the costs of damage and cost control at the tusks of the hybrid swine are estimated to be around $1.5 billion annually.

The Florida Assault by Invasive Species:

There is no better example of a geographical area under assault by invasive species than the state of Florida.  The peninsula extends into the tropical waters of the western Atlantic and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico like a large finger.  Many of the exotic species that hitch rides on cargo ships are unloaded in Florida ports.  Additionally, many of those exotic species find the tropical Florida climate comparably acceptable compared to their native environment.

Florida has become new breeding grounds for exotic species like Cane Toads, Iguanas, and unusually large lizards like the Tegu Lizard and Nile Monitor.  While the intrusive and detrimental impact of some of these species to the Native ecosystem, seems to be covert in nature, the impact of others is more obvious.  Burmese Pythons, brought into America as exotic pets, have found the Everglades and South Florida full of vulnerable wildlife species to prey upon.  The rapidly expanding population of pythons has laid waste to the population of native wildlife such as raccoons, opossums, deer, and native snakes and lizards.

Perhaps there is no better example of the intrusive and destructive nature of invasive species is the beautiful but caustic Lionfish.  Released into native waters by aquarium owners, tired of the responsibility, the Lionfish proved to be a serious threat to the tropical waters of the southeastern United States.  While most of the smaller coral fish species are vegetarian in nature, the Lionfish is carnivorous.  This characteristic has joined hands with a devastating trend of ocean acidification to create havoc on the reef systems of the Caribbean and surrounding waters.  The snapper and grouper population, already under attack by overfishing, found their fingerling population devastated by the voracious Lionfish appetite.  The same fate fell on other reef friendly fish populations.

Less Visible but Deadly Invasive Species:

There is no doubt that the most dangerous animal in the world is the minute mosquito.  Of course, the mosquito threat is due to the deadly mosquito-borne diseases that the insect transmits.  The repercussions of these diseases account for millions of worldwide deaths annually.  In 2015 malaria alone accounted for over 430,000 deaths.  The detail that makes these statistics relevant is the fact that two of the more recent invasive species to find a home in the United States are mosquitos.  More specifically, they are Aedes, Anopheles, and Culex varieties of mosquitos.  Fortunately, these well-established mosquito populations do not pose an epidemic threat at this point.  The diseases associated with these mosquitos include Chikungunya, Zika virus, Dengue, West Nile virus, Malaria, and Yellow fever.

The issue that could propel the issue of mosquito-borne diseases to a critical point is climate change.  At this historical time the northern location of the United States seems to restrict the mosquito population to the southern boundaries; however, if and when the climate continues to warm, the entire American Continent would become threatened by this mosquito diseases.

Recent Representatives of Florida’s Invasive Assault:

The more temperate climate of North Florida isolated it somewhat from the assault of invasive species that seems to be commonplace in the more tropical climate of South Florida.  Time always moves forward though, and recently two representatives of Florida’s assault of invasive species have moved into the home sites of North Central Florida.  Firstly the House Gecko, shown in the attached photograph, has made its way to Florida’s northern climate.  Their entrance to the northern areas of the state seems to be somewhat inconspicuous.  They appear not to be competitive with other comparable lizard species, and their representative growth at this point seems to be innocuous to the natural system.

The Cuban Tree Frog
The Cuban Tree Frog is an invasive species that preys on at least 5 other Florida frogs.

Unfortunately the appearance of the Cuban Tree Frog is not so benign.  This new migrant from the Caribbean has found at least several small species of native frogs to be easy prey and good food sources.  The actual impact of the newcomer on the native population of frogs is yet unknown according to the University of Florida, but there is little possibility that their presence will be beneficial.

While the house gecko and the Cuban tree frog appear to be less intrusive than other foreign invasive species, they are representatives of a trend.  More importantly and sadly, they might be representative of the sixth mass extinction.

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