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Foreign animals and plants pose threat to native flora and fauna

posted on 11/09/2006: 3108 views

Indigenous animal and plant life in urban UAE environments may be under threat from foreign species accidentally or purposefully introduced into the country, experts say.

The species include fish from Africa, birds, insects and a type of snake from India, an Indian mongoose, a butterfly from America and countless plants and trees from tropical environments.

All have arrived in the country in recent decades. Experts agree there may be a real potential threat to indigenous species.

"There are just too many non indigenous species to count, said Director of Dubai Zoo, Dr Reza Khan, "We don't know exactly what the impact will be in 50-100 years from now but there are a number of native species to the UAE which could be under threat already."

Dr Khan says that the majority of foreign species were either introduced un-intentionally after being transported on boats from India and Africa or were carried in soil brought in with foreign plants.

While local desert conditions are too harsh for the majority of non-native flora and fauna to survive, including the small number of mammals released by pet owners, Dr Khan says a greater availability of food and water sources in the country's burgeoning urban areas means some species are thriving.

The keen ornithologist says that perhaps the most noticeable foreigners are species of birds. He says the House Crow, the Common Myna, the Pied Starling and the Rose-ringed Parakeet, all native to India, have flown to the UAE on their own accord, hitched rides on boats from the sub-continent or were released by pet owners and shop keepers.

The House Crow is notoriously aggressive and poses a threat to indigenous insects and small reptiles while the Mynas often attack other birds' eggs.

Both the Rose-ringed Parakeet and the Alexandrian Parakeet, both from India, have voracious appetites for fruit and are considered pests among date farmers. Chairman of the Dubai Natural History Group, Gary Feulner who has lived in the UAE since 1984, says a common snail found in gardens in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is now out competing with native snails and eliminating them in infested areas.

"The Polygyra cereolus [no common name] is small and disc shaped like a tiny coil of rope and originates in Florida and the southeast areas of the US. They were probably introduced accidentally in the 1980s and '90s with grass and soil," he says.

For Feulner, the introduction of alien plants and animals is "seldom a good idea". He describes the East African Tilapia [Oreochromsis] which was purposely introduced into the UAE in the late '70s for mosquito control, as "seriously affecting native fresh water fish populations".

The Mesquite [Prosopis juliflora] a thriving ornamental plant species believed by some to originate in South America, has arrived in the UAE along multiple routes. "It is a prolific, invasive species that out competes native species," says Feulner.

Although considered a major threat to native vegetation in South Africa, Sudan and Oman and banned in Dubai, the Mesquite was purposely introduced from Pakistan and northern India as an ornamental plant in the 1970s.

"In nature it is always difficult to predict the results of a disturbance of the status quo. Most introductions will fail but some will succeed with regrettable results," adds Feulner. To back up his ideas he points to evidence in other countries.

"There are horror stories from other continents from almost every group of plants or animals the rabbit, the dingo and the cane toad in Australia, the English sparrow, the Starling, the Zebra Mussel in the US, the Giant African Land Snail around the Indian Ocean."

Dr Khan says that in addition to competing for food and resources with native species, non indigenous plants and animals can potentially introduce new diseases to related native species. Dr Khan recognises that animal and plant species have found their way around the world since the beginning of global trade. (Gulf News)


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