Sunday, September 1, 2013

Invasion of the fittest

Berenty Private Reserve is primarily a tourist site. The concern is with ensuring tourists have an enjoyable stay and see lots of lemurs right outside of their cabins. The few researchers who come to Berenty to work must contend with this fact.

Invasive vine that has been very successful
One of the problems that arise from Berenty being a tourist facility is the number of invasive species present here. Invasive species can take root anywhere, not just tourist sites. In Florida, work is being done to eradicate a species of land snail originally from Africa that can grow as large as a rat. The snail is thought to have been introduced by a religious group using the snail for ritual purposes. Asian carp were introduced on purpose in the Great Lakes to reduce algae levels. It turns out they eat pretty much anything and are completing taking over the Great Lakes and drastically reducing biodiversity.

Here at Berenty, certain plants have been planted for aesthetic pleasure. For example a row of cactus was planted along the road and the edge of the forest. This seems perfectly harmless at first glance. However, the inclusion of this plant in the ecosystem does change things. Lemurs eat the cactus, birds eat it, and before you know it you have cactus popping up in the forest itself. Cactus is popping up where it shouldn’t be and where it doesn’t belong. The same is true for other plant species brought in for aesthetic pleasure: they spread everywhere and find their way into the forest. These invasive species may be more successful than native species, driving out the original inhabitants and causing extinction of native species.

At least two of my three sifaka groups that I study I’ve seen eat from a species not native to this habitat. I’m doubtful it will affect my research, because I am looking to see if there are any differences between the sexes in their feeding habits. Invasive species certainly affects any researchers who come here to study diet. In fact, because of the introduced plant species and the provisioning of primates with human food that occurs at Berenty, this site could not really be used to study natural primate diet.

With the world growing smaller, humans travelling globally inadvertently bring seeds and invasive species with them. Primates and humans increasingly come into contact. Questions concerning primate diet in unnatural, altered ecosystems may be all that scientists are able to ask.

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