As most people know, when a non-native organism is introduced into a foreign habitat it can have a devastating impact on the plants and animals that make up that ecosystem -- like an ecological ticking time-bomb. But despite the notion that invasive species really only cause harm to wildlife, society itself isn't necessarily invulnerable. In his recently published doctoral dissertation, Ph.D candidate Lawrence Roberge notes a troubling potential for terrorists to intentionally release non-native species, like feral pigs and ticks, to serve as 'weapons' in bioterrorism attacks against the United States.
Roberge, who is associate professor of Anatomy & Physiology at Laboure College and working towards a Ph.D from Atlantic International University, warns of the risks posed by the weaponization of invasive wildlife by terrorist organizations. The introduction of non-native plant and animals into specific ecosystems and agricultural regions could do as much societal and economic damage as even more typical biologic weapons like anthrax and smallpox, Roberge asserts.
And what's worse, the United States is woefully unprepared for such an attack. "We must prepare for the use of invasive species as biological weapons," Roberge says. "These types of weapons are inexpensive to produce and hard to detect immediately, so they can cause extensive damage before they can be controlled."
A press release from Business Wire outlines just a few potentially weaponized species and what sort of damage could be expected if they were to be released:
-Feral pigs can be used to carry the Nipah virus and spread disease to humans, cattle and wildlife.
-The heartwater pathogen, a microbe that can cause heart and pulmonary edema, and carried by the tropical bont tick, can kill deer, cattle or other wildlife, and potentially be transmitted to humans.
-Striga, a plant parasite that can destroy corn crops, and subsequently devastate commodity markets and bio-fuel production.
-Barberry plants that are eaten by birds whose droppings spread wheat stem rust, which can cause a decline or destruction of wheat production.
Scary stuff, made all the worse considering the lasting ecological fallout that would result from attacks like these. Still, Roberge suggests there are steps that can be taken to avoid the weaponized species from ever being released, like by setting up a global network to report on invasive species and making a database of how best to eliminate them.