Extinction and “De-Extinction” have been in the news lately. Hardly surprising since some estimates suggest more than 99 percent of all the species that have ever lived have gone extinct.
That level of disappearance is the “background” level of extinction. The United Nations believes the situation is worse today estimating that 200 species of living beings, including plants and insects, disappear daily.
But the situation is not static and new species are frequently found, Some thought to be extinct are found again. Moreover, improving DNA science may lead to a day when we can radically reduce damaging creatures such as ticks and defend or even “de-extinct” species that have gone before.
Australia is often in the news for its diversity of wildlife, threatened extinctions and the impact of invasive species. Sometimes extinction (at east local) can be good, as Australia is attempting to eliminate invasive species that kill native wildlife.
The Australian wood eating cockroach (Panesthia lata) highlights all three aspects. The large cockroach eats wood and is important in recycling dead timber. Smithsonian says there are 4500or so types of roaches, 30 of which are pests. This one is no pest and is considered important.
However, a prime invasive species, the rat, arrived on Lord Howe Island. The once abundant roaches vanished and were presumed extinct. Rats were blamed. Unlike other Australian invasive species this came about by literal accident. A shipwreck released rats into an island paradise. The island is hunderds of miles from other land. Some 11 ships have crashed on its shores. Others were lost on the way. The rats multiplied and species vanished.
Australia is fighting back against invasive species, however, and launched a rat eradication program on the island. It appears to have allowed however few wood eating cockroaches left to rebound and they have been found on small islands near Lord Howe. The island was named after Lord Howe, the First Lord of the English Admiralty when the island was discovered by the Royal Navy in 1788.
The island lies between Australia and New Zealand and is a prime tourist destination. Very few are allowed on the island at a time. Many come to view the 14 species of seabirds. That is why the rats were so unwelcome. Rats raid bird nests.
According to the Lord Howe Rat Eradication Project website the rats have already eliminated a good number of creatures native to the island.
Rats are extremely difficult to eradicate, but the hope is that on a relatively small island they can be annihilated. Alaska is also fighting a battle against rats. Rats are not native and don’t fare well in the wilderness. They are making themselves at home in cities, however.
Meanwhile, advances are being made in “de-extincting” or resurrrecting currently extinct species. Wooly mammoths, Tasmanian tigers, passenger pigeons and Dodo birds are on the list of creatures to be revived.