Thursday, March 17, 2005

Moth Eaten Science

It seems like some biologists still haven't learned their lesson. Fighting one invasive species by introducing another almost always results in some unforeseen problem.

In the coming year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Invasive Plants Research Laboratory in Fort Lauderdale, Florida plans to release 20,000 Austromuscotima camptonozale moths. This species is native to Australia and the caterpillar stage of the moth feeds primarily on the Old World climbing fern (Lygodium microphyllum). This fern, native to southeast Asia, is thriving in Florida, "explosively spreading" through "suburban backyards to remote locations in the Everglades." The USDA biologists believe the caterpillars will keep the fern under control and insist that the moth "doesn’t have a similar appetite for the native U.S. plants it might encounter in Florida and nearby states."

Even if this wishful thinking should prove true, what of the effect that the moths, sure to thrive given Florida's climate and food supply, will have on predators in the region? Bats, lizards, and small mammals are sure to be affected by the introduction. Something tells me all the possibilities weren't considered. Hell, even if a conscientious USDA white coat did try to think of every possible variable, it is nearly impossible to do so.

Again, if you have the Science News subscription, check here. Unfortunately, I could find no other links to this story.

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