In invasive species battle, thinking outside the cage works

In invasive species battle, thinking outside the cage works

A robot zaps and vacuums up venomous lionfish in Bermuda. A helicopter pelts Guam's trees with poison-baited dead mice to fight the voracious brown tree snake. A special boat with giant winglike nets stuns and catches Asian carp in the US Midwest.

In the fight against alien animals that invade and overrun native species, the weird and wired wins.

"Critters are smart they survive," said biologist Rob "Goose" Gosnell, head of US Department of Agriculture's wildlife services in Guam, where brown tree snakes have gobbled up nearly all the native birds. "Trying to outsmart them is hard to do."

Invasive species are plants and animals that thrive in areas where they don't naturally live, usually brought there by humans, either accidentally or intentionally. Sometimes, with no natural predators, they multiply and take over, crowding out and at times killing native species.

Now, new technology is being combined with the old methods weed pulling, trapping and pesticides. Finding new weapons is crucial because invasive species are costly USD 314 billion per year in damages in just the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, India and Brazil.

It's also one of the leading causes of extinction on islands, such as Guam, according to Piero Genovesi, an Italian scientist who chairs the invasive species task force for an international organisation.

"We have totally new tools that were just unthinkable a few years ago," Genovesi said.

Case in point: There are companies that now market traps for wild pigs that are triggered by cellphones. "There's enough activity that there's starting to be an industry," said University of California, Santa Cruz research biologist Bernie Tershy.

A new underwater robot is targeting the stunning but dangerous lionfish, which has spread over the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and up the US East Coast as far north as New York's Long Island, with its venomous spines that are dangerous to touch.

With no natural predator in the Atlantic, the voracious aquarium fish devour large amounts of other fish including key commercial fish species such as snapper and grouper. The robot is the creation of Colin Angle, chief executive officer of IRobot, which makes the Roomba vacuum cleaner. Along with his wife, Erika, and colleagues, he created a new nonprofit to turn automation into environmental tools

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