Introduced agricultural pests, plant and animals diseases and vectors in the Dutch Caribbean, with an “Alert species” list

A review of the introduced agricultural pests and animal and plant diseases and vectors for the Dutch Caribbean in which a total of 47 exotic pests, diseases, parasites and pathogens established on one or more of the Dutch Caribbean islands are listed and discussed. These include 2 species of voracious herbivorous snails, 7 species of millipedes, 8 species of invasive ants, and some 16 species of insects that infest plants. Most agricultural pests are not strongly host-specific and will typically also affect native plants and/or animals. This makes it very difficult to eradicate or control these species once established. Therefore, prevention and early eradication is key.

The most information on invasive alien pests is available for the leeward Dutch islands while the least is known for the windward Dutch islands. The principal means of entry is the importation of unsterilized soil and plant material through container shipment, import of ornamental plants and air traffic. The economic costs, both in terms of damages and control measures, as well as missed opportunities that these species cause, has not been estimated but certainly runs in the millions of dollars annually. By far the most economically costly invasive species is the yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti, a pest and disease vector closely associated with man. In a few cases, biological control and eradication has been successful.

Introduction of invasive pest species continues at a high rate in the Dutch Caribbean and preventive measures are urgently needed to limit future costs and risks in terms of economy and health.

Key recommendations are: a) to strongly restrict and control importation of ornamental plants, most of which can be propagated locally without risk of new introductions, b) restrict importation of unsterilized foodstuffs, c) practice tighter control and prophylactic fumigation of container shipments, d) continue strict veterinary controls on animal importations. To effectively implement such measures, will require greater awareness, supporting legislation, cooperation of customs agents and shippers and the presence of a biosecurity unit authorized and equipped to act on short notice.

Based on experiences in other Caribbean countries and existing trade patterns and taking into account which species could survive in an arid climate, it is possible to draw up a preliminary listing of “Alert” species for the Dutch Caribbean. Such a listing is a critical tool for effective prevention. The preliminary Alert list discusses 21 species to be on the look-out for, most of which are insects and most of which can be expected to cause important damage to crops and/or nature, or both, if introduced.

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