I’m really pleased to see a more sensible discussion going on about the realities of invasive species management thanks to the article in Invasive plant News which involved one of our regional Coordinators for Invasives Arne Witt from our CABI Africa Centre. The crux of the issue was the naïve use of the word eradication when speaking of efforts to control one of the worst weeds in the world, Lantana camara, which no one in their right mind would consider achievable, even in the early days. More worrying is the emerging trend of publishing negative pieces on invasive management, leaving us with the feeling we should give up and accept what opportunist ecologists now call “novel ecosystems” and their increased productivity. Little mention is made of the biodiversity reduction which is inherent in such invaded ecosystems and even more frustratingly for me, classical biological control is frequently overlooked. The acceptance that the situation is unmanageable and we need to move on is not valid as long as biocontrol remains untried. This echoes the excellent response in Science by our very own Harry Evans and his Brazilian colleague Robert Baretto, to the original “embracing invasives” article where they point out that doing nothing is not an option and the integration of biocontrol in areas of high conservation value such as the Galapagos is crucial. True, in the case of Lantana, which has been the subject of biocontrol research for over a century, success is not a given. Mankind and nature’s propensity for creating new forms of the weed has resulted in varieties that are not susceptible to some of our most promising biocontrol agents. However, on the Galapagos a fungal agent looks likely to be able to provide control without harming the native Lantana sp. but remains unexploited. When this was proposed, the decision was made to spend most of the flood of available money shooting goats from helicopters. A case of sour grapes on my part or perhaps an opportunity missed? Either way before anyone declares a lost cause when speaking about invasive species they should first check that sensible goals have been set and secondly that all approaches have been explored.
In 2010, we commenced with a controlled release of the specialist Japanese knotweed natural enemy, Aphalara itadori, in the UK. This has been the culmination of many years of project development and intense research and is effectively a first for Europe, at least as far as weeds are concerned.