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February 20, 2007

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Rebecca Murphy

Not the cane toad AGAIN!
The article by Carl Zimmer in the New York Times is on assisted migration to conserve species threatened by climate change – nothing to do with biocontrol. Why does he cite the cane toad? The cane toad was an appallingly ill-judged introduction to Australia to try and control beetle pests of an agricultural crop (sugarcane) – nothing to do with biodiversity conservation.
There are plenty of examples of introductions that threaten biodiversity, even some where biocontrol has provided the solution not the problem. The climbing plant rubbervine (Cryptostegia grandiflora), for instance, was identified as the biggest single threat to natural ecosystems in tropical Australia; widespread in Queensland, it was threatening the Kakadu National Park in Northern Territory, just as the cane toad does now. A host-specific rust fungus introduced from Madagascar, where the rubbervine genus is endemic, brought the weed rapidly under control in the mid 1990s. Biocontrol doesn’t always provide such spectacular success, but neither is it the doomed strategy the cane toad suggests.
Incidentally, cane toads in Australia haven’t “wiped out much of the continent’s wildlife.” For more reasoned assessments, see news articles in the December 2006 issue of Biocontrol News and Information 27(4): www.pestscience.com/PDF/News2704.pdf

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