Guam's forests may have been "irreversibly damaged" by foreign snake species: Australian researcher

CANBERRA, Sept. 1 (Xinhua) -- The introduction of the Brown Treesnake to Guam approximately 60 years ago might have caused irreversible damage to the island's forest ecosystem, according to an ecological expert of the University of Canberra.

Lizzie Wandrag, co-author of a study into the destruction of Guam's forests by the introduced treesnake species, found that within 30 years of its introduction, most of the island's seed-spreading birds had been made extinct - something she says will have a profound effect on the future of the local ecosystem.

Wandrag said that her team analyzed the spread of forest seedlings on Guam and on the nearby snake-free islands of Rota and Saipan, adding that the pristine and untouched nearby islands gave the research team the "perfect comparative opportunity" to witness firsthand the effects of the Brown Treesnake of Guam.

"It has been around 30 years since the Brown Treesnake eradicated most of Guam's birds, and it looks like we can already see some impacts in the mature forests," she told Xinhua.

"It was for this reason that we looked at the regenerating seedling community in treefall gaps on Guam, and compared it to nearby islands that are very similar ecologically, except they still have birds: this helped us to make sure that the effects we were seeing were down to the lack of birds on Guam."

Wandrag said now that research had identified the effects that the Brown Treesnake is set to have in the local ecosystem, focus had shifted to "considering other ways of spreading seeds in the forests."

"Gaining a greater understanding of importance of these seed-spreading birds for the forests is an important first step in understanding their impacts," she said.

"Haldre Rogers, an author on the paper ... is leading a lot of other research aimed at identifying further impacts of these losses, and considering other ways of spreading seeds in the forests."

Meanwhile in a separate statement accompanying her research, Wandrag said the time for the local government to act was now, declaring the Brown Treesnake's appetite for seed-spreading birds could have already "changed the way these forests look" forever.

"Losing native seed dispersers of the landscape could irrevocably change the way these forests look. Introduced species such as the Brown Treesnake could end up threatening not just local animals, but ultimately entire ecosystems," she said.

[ Editor: meng ]
 

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