Australia’s environment is being ravaged by invasive species, and some tactics currently being used to combat them have produced minimal results. An Australian scientist recently suggested that introducing top predators and large herbivores like elephants and could remedy the situation.
“A lot of people are saying that we need to look to geoengineering to solve our problems,” David Bowman, a professor of environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania, Australia, told Livescience. “What I am saying is that we need a new nature — we need to try ecosystem engineering.”
Non-native, flammable grasses like the African gamba grass make fires a constant problem in Australia. Foxes, cats and other feral animals are reducing native species, according to Bowman–they’re running uncontrolled due to a lack of natural predators. Livestock and other non-native species, like donkeys, camels and deer, are destroying habitats, spreading diseases and competing with local animals for food and other natural resources.
Bowman told Livescience that some current management methods have had negative effects on the ecosystem: for example, poisoning dingoes to protect livestock.
“But when you reduce a dingo population, it changes their predatory behavior,” Bowman told Livescience. “When they are allowed to build up packs, they control cats and foxes.”
In addition to possibly restoring the number of dingoes, Bowman also suggests importing komodo dragons and other top predators to deal with these pests.
Using new species for fire reduction works on a similar principle. The herbivores currently found in Australia, both native and alien, are unable to graze on the tall Africa gamba grass. Bowman said elephants, rhinos and other large African plant eaters could help by eating the flammable grass because they already do that in their native habitats.
Some scientists believe this new plan might bring about a whole new set of environmental problems.
“It seems like a terrific idea and one that will get a lot of people excited,” Mark Hoddle, a biologist at the University of California, Riverside, told Livescience. “But once they start thinking about it, they’ll see that it’s a flawed idea.”
Bringing in Komodo dragons to replace giant lizards that once roamed in Australia might not be a good idea either, Steven Hess, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Hawaii told LiveScience.
“Once you start adding more and more animals to the system, you are basically committed to ecosystem change,” Hess told LiveScience. “You are ruling out the option of ever going back.”