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Harm not those strangers that pollinate, study warns
Date:11/16/2011

In an irony of nature, invasive species can become essential to the very ecosystems threatened by their presence, according to a recent discovery that could change how scientists and governments approach the restoration of natural spaces.

Princeton University researchers report this month in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B evidence that destructive, non-native animals that have been deservedly maligned by conservationists the world over can take on important biological roles such as flower pollination once held by the species the interlopers helped eliminate.

As a result, campaigns to curb invasive animal populations should include efforts to understand the role of the invasive species in question and, if necessary, reintroduce missing native animals, explained co-author David Wilcove, a Princeton professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs. Otherwise, without either native or foreign species to complete crucial tasks such as pollination, plants and animals particularly already pressured native species could suffer further, he said.

Wilcove worked with lead author David Pattemore, who received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 2011, to observe the pollination of three indigenous plant species in New Zealand. Initially, the researchers sought to document the plants' health on New Zealand's North Island, an environment where native vertebrate pollinator species have largely vanished. They wanted to compare the plants' survival to that of the same species in an island nature reserve off the North Island coast where all the native vertebrates still occur. They instead found that invasive pests such as ship rats, introduced to New Zealand by Europeans, were just as instrumental in pollination on the North Island as endemic birds and bats were in the nature preserve.

Wilcove and Pattemore, who is now a scientist at the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research, concluded that anima
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Contact: Morgan Kelly
mgnkelly@princeton.edu
609-258-5729
Princeton University
Source:Eurekalert  

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