Thursday 22 February 2018

Native species 'risk going way of the dodo'

Irish hare: harmed by non-native animals' impact
Irish hare: harmed by non-native animals' impact

David Young

THE Irish hare is one of a number of native species facing extinction if action is not taken to control the invasion of foreign mammals in Ireland, new research has found.

The red squirrel and red deer are also in danger of going the same way as the dodo because of the impact non-native animals are having on the ecosystem.

The warnings follow a two-year study by academics from Belfast's Queen's University.

It focused on two species that were introduced and are now thriving in Ireland -- the bank vole and the greater white-toothed shrew.

Researchers found that the native pygmy shrew has vanished in the parts of the island where these foreign species are found. And wood mouse numbers have dropped by 50pc in places where the bank vole is fully established.

The study on "invasional meltdown" is published in the scientific journal 'Biological Invasions'. It claimed that if the rate of invasion continued, native small mammals in Ireland would die out in at least 80pc of their available habitat.

Professor Ian Montgomery, lead researcher from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen's, said: "The introduction of alien mammals to Ireland over the last 100 years has had major detrimental effects, threatening our indigenous habitats and species.

"The American grey squirrel, for example, passes a deadly virus to native red squirrels, while European hares threaten the ecological and genetic integrity of the native Irish hare through competition and interbreeding," he said.

"Governments, north and south of the border, are urged to work together to address the overall problem of invasive mammals throughout Ireland.

"It is no longer tenable to treat each invasive species as an isolated case. We should establish a realistic plan identifying the mammal species that are key to maintaining our unique biodiversity and ecology and those that we should eliminate or control."

Irish Independent

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