Exotic and invasive terrestrial and freshwater animal species in the Dutch Caribbean
We here provide an overview of 72 invasive animals of the terrestrial and freshwater environments of the Dutch Caribbean, eleven of which are no longer present. All invasive animals that are principally agricultural pests and or animal and plant diseases (46 species) are excluded as these are discussed separately elsewhere. The 61 species documented and discussed here as presently living in the wild or semi-wild state on one or more of the Dutch Caribbean islands, amount to 12 exotic mammals, 16 birds, 13 reptiles, 5 amphibians, 2 freshwater fishes, 3 insects, 2 mollusks and 8 exotic earthworms. For most species, the ecology, distribution, status and current impact remains poorly known as few invasive species have been object of directed studies. Some of the most deleterious animal introductions have been mammals, particularly the grazers and the predators, most of which have been introduced in the historical past. Among these, the four key species are grazing goats, the mongoose the cat and the black rat. In most cases, such species cannot be eradicated because they are widespread and firmly established or even kept as livestock. Nevertheless, these species must urgently be controlled in sensitive areas where possible. Our review also shows that many introduced mammals and reptiles are still present in relatively small populations, making eradication still very feasible. Seven species have the status of being native in parts of the Dutch Caribbean but introduced to other parts where they are not native. The most threatening of this last category is the green iguana, as introduced to St. Maarten where it outcompetes and hybridizes with the weaker Lesser Antillean iguana.
The key priorities for successful action against invasive exotic animals are:
- the control of goats;
- control of introduced predators (rats and cats) near seabird breeding colonies;
- eradication of several small populations of exotic mammal predators and reptiles as long as this is possible before the get a strong foothold and spread;
- eradication of introduced species from small satellite islands which serve (or served) as seabird breeding habitat.
In addition to such on-island action against species already present, it is critical to prevent further introductions. The most important pathways to focus control on are the container transport of goods, the international trade in pets and the trade in ornamental plants. Two key action points are urgently needed: a) develop the existing legislation and b) invasive species management teams (ISMTs) empowered for action. It is essential that these initiatives be firmly imbedded in a policy framework. The first step ahead in these respects should be to outline an Invasive Species Strategy and Action Plan (ISSAP). However, in the interim, the lack of an ISSAP should not hinder directed critical action at the local level (eg. against goats in the national parks and cats at seabird breeding sites).
This research is part of the Wageningen University BO research program (BO-11-011.05-004) and has been financed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation (EL&I) under project number 4308202004.