hybridization

An integrative approach to assess non-native iguana presence on Saba and Montserrat: are we losing all native Iguana populations in the Lesser Antilles?

Abstract

Invasive alien species are among the main drivers of the ongoing sixth mass extinction wave, especially affecting island populations. Although the Caribbean is well-known for its high species richness and endemism, also for reptiles, equally important is the regional contribution of non-native species to island biodiversity. The Lesser Antilles encompass high genetic diversity in Iguana, though most native populations either have gone extinct or are declining following competitive hybridization with invasive non-native iguanas. Here we assessed non-native presence in two poorly-studied native melanistic Iguana iguana populations using available genetic tools, and explored utilizing size-dependent body measurements to discriminate between native and non-native iguanas. Genetic samples from Saba and Montserrat were genotyped across 17 microsatellite loci with STRUCTURE and multivariate analyses indicating non-native iguanas presence only on Saba. This was corroborated by mtDNA and nDNA sequences, highlighting a non-native origin in Central America and the ABC islands. We identied preliminary evidence suggestive of hybridization. Morphological variation among size-dependent characteristics showed that non-native iguanas have signicantly larger subtympanic plates than native iguanas. Non-native individuals also differed in scalation and coloration patterns. Overall, our ndings demonstrate the need for continuous monitoring for non-native iguanas within remaining native Iguana populations in the Lesser Antilles, with those not directly threatened by non-native iguanas restricted to only 8.7% of the historic range. Although genetic data allows for identication of non-native or hybrid iguana presence, this eld-to-lab workow is time consuming. Rapid in-situ identication of non-native individuals is crucial for conservation management, and besides scale and coloration patterns, we have highlighted the utility of size-dependent variables for rapid diagnosis. We urge regional partners to build morphometric databases for native Iguana populations that will help to quickly detect future incursions of non-native iguanas and allow the rapid implementation of effective countermeasures during the early phase of invasion.

Date
2022
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Journal
Geographic location
Saba

Case study of a Rapid Response Removal Campaign for the invasive alien green iguana, Iguana iguana

Abstract

The Invasive Alien Green Iguana (IAGI), Iguana iguana, has spread worldwide via the pet trade, as stowaways and via other means and has become a pest species of global concern. It also represents a major threat to the endemic Lesser Antillean Iguana, Iguana delicatissima, on St. Eustatius. Following the capture of an adult female IAGI on St. Eustatius in early 2016, we conducted a Rapid Response Removal Campaign (RC) from April 2016 to January 2017. Three sets of directed visual surveys totaling 409.5 observer hours and covering a combined trajectory of 114.2 km realized only a single detection of a hybrid that was later removed. During the remainder of the campaign period, an additional four IAGI hybrids were opportunistically detected and removed thanks to park staff or community involvement. Since the end of the campaign, eight additional detections and removals have been realized, three of which were IAGIs caught while offloading freight in the harbour and five of which were hybrids caught in surrounding suburban areas. We suggest that at least four distinct IAGI introductions to St. Eustatius occurred between 2013 and 2020. Our results show the value of motivating and mobilizing stakeholders and the public at an early stage of an invasion. Since the program’s initiation, eight of the 13 iguanas detected for culling were thanks to public and key stakeholder support and involvement. Four years after our campaign, the number of IAGIs and their hybrids still appear to be limited and concentrated in and around inhabited areas. Additional removal campaigns should be initiated as soon as possible, firmly based in public outreach, motivation and engagement. New legislation is needed to prohibit the importation, possession and harbouring of IAGIs or hybrids and to provide a framework for long-term structural funding required for effective control and removal. Routine fumigation and rigorous inspection of arriving cargo to eliminate the risk of stowaway IAGIs are also recommended. Culling of IAGIs is recommended for the port of St. Maarten, which serves as a major point of dispersal of IAGIs to St. Eustatius and likely also other islands in the region.

Date
2022
Data type
Scientific article
Geographic location
St. Eustatius