USF study adds to knowledge of how to control invasive species

10/11/12 Olivia Kabat
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University of South Florida researchers have studied one of the most commonly known invasive species in the world, house sparrows. They found behavioral and stress hormone patterns that could help control and prevent house sparrows and other invasive species from future invasions.

The study was published in the biological research journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Andrea Liebl, a PhD candidate at USF, says in many cases invasive species are controlled after they’re already introduced and the study’s findings are anticipated to change this problem.

“What makes and invasive species is, because a lot of organisms, if they’re put into a new place that they’re not familiar with, they wouldn’t be able to find food and they also wouldn’t necessarily be able to find other individuals to breed with. So an invasive species is really good at finding food and they can survive in areas where they shouldn’t be able to survive in.”

Associate Professor Lynn Martin and Liebl in the Department of Integrative Biology studied house sparrows in Kenya to find how invasive species survive in habitats they were not meant to live in. They found a new way for scientists to identify other invasive species before they cause havoc.

“One thing that’s really interesting about house sparrows is that they’re pretty much everywhere and they can breed in snowy climates and in cold climates and in very hot climates. So that’s what we’re wondering, is how they’re so good at doing that, how they can be anywhere and survive. So we looked at two things. One was exploration in a novel place and then we also looked at stress hormones and we found that animals that are in newer places are going to be more exploratory, which makes sense because they have to be searching more for food and they also released more stress hormones.”

Liebl says the next step for scientists is to see if other invasive species such as Asian carp and lionfish also show the same stress hormone patterns as the house sparrows.

“I think that would definitely be the place to go to see if other vertebrates also share these characteristics because it might help us identify especially with the pet trade, we could look at certain pets and do these little tests and then say well this species is very likely to be dangerous at being a good invader.”

Liebl says the main goal is to stabilize a species population before it drives out other native species and takes over. These new findings could change the way scientists identify and control invasive species around the world.

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thanks for good news

This is so interesting! To be able to not see gloom and doom when a plant or animal species is introduced (by humans) into a habitat other than that of its historical occurrence because you know it can be absorbed (in a manner of speaking) into the natural diversity rather than becoming so aggressive that it takes over -- this would be a welcome change. Some species, of course, are so powerfully invasive that this adaptation may not be possible (some are less damaging than others), but if some or many can be less to not problematic, we could save ourselves a lot of stress, too. Thanks for this report.