Learning the Ways of Invasive Species: Joanna Bagniewska at TEDxWarsaw

Translator: H Maria Castro
Reviewer: Francesca Blasi What do you see behind me? Well, most of you would say
that it’s a very cute baby rabbit. But, if I asked Ralph
or any other Australians, the answers I would get
would be pretty much along the lines
of “This is what kills our trees.” “This is what eats the food
of our native animals.” and “This is what causes soil erosion”. “It’s a horrid invasive species.” Now, invasive species are animals
that have been brought outside of their native range
and have had a negative impact in their new surroundings. Negative impact.
That’s a bit of an understatement. Invasive species are one
of the top reasons for biodiversity loss. And in fact one fifth
of all animal extinctions are due solely to invasive species. Biological invasions also cause
huge agricultural losses and may even pose a risk to human health. For instance, the Asian tiger mosquitoes
have brought the yellow fever from Asia to Southern Europe. Now, the European Environment Agency estimates that the economic losses
caused by biological invasions amount to 12 billion euros each year. So, it’s not much of a surprise
that wherever the invasive species appear, they’re pretty much hated. After all, we are fighting a very costly
environmental war against them. Now, the war against
invasive species, like any other war, is not only about the big, gory battles. It’s also about espionage.
It’s about getting to know your enemy. It’s about new technological developments. And, of course, about the drama
of everyone involved. I’m here to tell you the story
of one of our invasive enemies. And to tell you how
a very powerful opponent can challenge us in more ways than one. OK, so let’s begin. In North America, there live these guys. Very cute little brown animals,
called mink. They are brown and they are very soft. In fact, they are so soft that people thought it would be
a good idea to wear their fur. And, in the 1800’s, a lot of fur farms
opened in North America. Very soon after that, the Europeans
grew jealous of the luscious fur coats and so, in the 1920’s,
fur farms opened in Europe. Soon after that, some
American mink escaped and some were released intentionally. And before we knew it, American mink had established wild populations
throughout Europe. Now, what’s wrong with that? Well, mink are carnivores. They are very, very efficient hunters. European wildlife was not ready for this. We have brought upon
our continent a very powerful enemy. Problem number one. We have our own species
of mink in Europe, the European mink, and the American mink, being American,
are bigger, more aggressive, they breed better, they are
much more efficient at hunting, it’s a classical case of oversized,
oversexed, over here. And because of that
the European mink has been out-competed from most of its native range. In fact, it is now one of the most
endangered European mammals. American mink also
pose a problem to seabirds. Seabirds, such as terns and seagulls,
tend to nest in colonies on small islands off the coast, maybe about
a kilometer or two off the mainland. These islands used to be very safe
because no predator could access them. So, birds would lay their eggs
directly on the ground. Now, because we have the American mink, these animals can swim to the islands
and once they reach the islands they’re like a kid in a candy store.
There are birds everywhere. Mink may do what
is called surplus killing, which means that they will kill anything
that they can sink their teeth into without really thinking much ahead
about food availability. They just kind of go for it. In fact, one mink borough was found
to contain over 200 dead seagull chicks. And it really is no surprise that seabird
colonies of international importance, when affected by American mink,
can be reduced in size by even 50%. And on top of that, the American mink
also can cause local extinctions of species that are its prey, for instance
the water vole in parts of the UK, or the desman in parts of Spain. So we have brought upon ourselves
a very, very powerful enemy. We’re talking here about an animal
that can swim like an otter, that can climb trees like a cat,
and that can hunt on land like a fox. It’s not any old invader, it’s more like the American
special forces unit. It’s so adaptable and so versatile,
and because of this adaptability it is very difficult to control,
but it’s also a challenge to study. And yet they are very interesting,
because when you look at mink physiology you think “How does this animal
even swim so well?” Because, think of a mink:
It’s very skinny and long, so it loses heat very fast. That’s a problem underwater. Its paws are not well adapted to paddling. It can’t see well underwater
and its fur is not waterproof. And yet, as I have told you, it can swim
to islands that are a kilometer or two away from the mainland. Also, in some sites,
even 90% of their prey is aquatic. So, how do they do that? And how do we even know what they do? Actually, let’s take a step back. How do we know, in general,
what animals do in the wild? Have you ever thought about that? Because ideally, we would
just observe animals directly. But that is rarely possible
and mink are not really the easiest ones to look out for. So, what we can do is
we can look for droppings and tracks. This is very useful, for instance
for establishing what an animal has been doing in which place. It doesn’t tell us that much
about particular behaviors, apart from the fact that
an animal was pooping at some point. Useful, but maybe not crucial. What we can use are camera traps and these provide fantastic
pictures of animal behavior. The problem with those is that you never
know what will pose for your picture, what will trigger your camera trap. Because, for instance, you might
set up a camera trap to look for wild cats and you might get a wild cat
or you might get… This. (Laughter) A very curious monkey. (Laughter) Another good method
for looking at animal behavior, particularly at home-range sizes,
is radio-tracking. That is very common for studying
animal territories on land. But what if we want to look
at animal behavior in water? Dive patterns of different animals have been studied
for fully aquatic species, such as seals or whales. But mink are semi-aquatic, which means that, while a whale
is unlikely to jump out of the water and then climb a tree
and then catch a bird, a mink will do just that, very often. It transitions between the aquatic
and the terrestrial habitats. And what it does, behaviorally, makes us think differently
about data analysis. It’s something
completely novel for biologists. We’re used to those seals
and whales in terms of behavior. So we have to re-think the way
that we process our data. And the way that we can study mink is
using miniaturized time-depth recorders. These are small logging devices
and you can see one over here, except here it is much larger,
it’s normally about this big. These record temperature and depth
over time and they tell us two things. First of all, from the depth records
we can find out more about mink diving. Secondly, because we place
the data-logger under the mink’s neck, we are able to look at concrete
activities from the temperature records. So what happens is that we look
at an animal that curls up when it’s inactive, and so the data-logger
under its neck warms up and you can see here, on the left graph, that the temperatures achieved
by the data-logger are very high, because it’s snug
underneath the mink’s chin. When the animal becomes active
and it uncurls, the air around us
would hit the data-logger, and so the temperature on it would drop, as you can see on the second graph. Finally, when the animal
jumps into the water, the data-logger temperature is even lower. So we can determine different
behavioral activities based on that. It’s a very simple method, but it has not been used for mammals
in a semi-aquatic environment. Yeah, but so what? Well, we learn from it two things. First of all, we have
the espionage factor, so we found out more about mink. We now know that mink are only
active for about 20% of the day. Which means that they must be
pretty efficient as hunters in general, because they sleep around
for quite a lot of time. But also what’s very interesting
is that they’re not too fussed when it comes to
ambient temperature and diving. In fact, the smaller
and skinnier the mink, the more times it would dive in a row. For instance, a very small female
would dive 80 times in a row. In winter. And think about how small
and how skinny this animal is. And how cold the water is. And then you’ll put it in perspective, it’s quite a feat for
a weasel-like animal to do that. So, on one hand that tells us
that they’re very, very well adapted to handling cold temperatures. But on the other hand, it must mean that they are not
super-successful at hunting underwater. Because, if they had been
successful at fishing, they would only need one or two dives,
they’d dive in, they’d catch a fish, and then they’d move on
to the river bank to eat it. And yet they require
80 dives in a row even. They try hard,
but they’re not very successful. So it would seem
that our super-forces unit is in fact more of a Jack-of-all-trades
and a master of none. But we also learned something else. We have a new method that tells us
how to study semi-aquatic behavior in general,
in many species, not just mink. And that’s important because
animals that are dependent on or adapted to living next to water
can be found in pretty much all mammalian orders and some of them,
like mink, or like coypu, they’re invasive and others, for instance
hippo species, are endangered and before we decide to either
control or conserve a certain species, we need to find out as much as possible
about its behavior and about its ecology. And this is what we can now do
thanks to methodology that has been developed
for the American mink. It’s a little bit like how,
during the II World War, the cracking of the Enigma has pushed forward
the development of early computers. Wars come and go, but technology
stays and can be applicable later as well. But if you think of invasive species
in general, we might feel very resentful about the problems that they cause,
the money that they cost us, but we have to think about all the things
that we can learn thanks to studying them. For instance, the American Grey squirrel,
that was brought into the UK, forced us to study more virology. The Canadian beaver, in Norway,
forced us to study genetics. The cane toads in Australia
taught us more about toxicology. All of these animals
are supremely adaptable, they’re versatile, they’re resilient, they do fantastically well
in their new habitat. They’re an evolutionary triumph. But at the same time
it’s a tragedy that they face, of being in the wrong place. After all, in its native America,
the American mink tends to be used as a sentinel species,
which means that it’s considered a very good indicator of water quality. Which means that,
because it eats a lot of fish, potential pollutants could
accumulate in its tissues and so reflect the quality of the rivers. But yet, in Europe,
it’s the public enemy number one. But think about it:
It is so because of us. It’s our greed for the luscious
brown soft coats that have turned this beautiful little animal
into a voracious ecological catastrophe. The story of invasive species,
like any war story, is a sad one. But we have to stop and think
about the challenges put forward by all those small animals,
be it in terms of control or in terms of research. I wanted to end my talk
with a joke about invasive species but when I did a quick Google search
for “invasive”, “species” and “joke” the only results that I got
were websites saying that “Invasive species are no joke.” And, while it is true, we can always
learn something from them. Thank you. (Applause)

Comments 17

  • She's smart AND hot!

  • Trochę taki "kapitalizm" zwierząt. Przyszło większe i zjada resztę 😉

  • Really well given and explained-thanks!

  • Yes, she doesn't.

  • I think the big concern is that conservationists have made the created structure of biotic nativeness into gospel truth. It is a relatively recent and incoherent construct, yet it seems to have an almost religious following. By demonstrating suitability to an environment, they should be considered native. It is an utter farce to say that just because humans transport a creature that it is un-natural.

    Google "The Rise and Fall of Biotic Nativeness" which is an excellent write up on the subject.

  • …I'm pretty sure that this chick could convince me of ANYTHING! 😉

  • Let me get this straight: the problem with farming minks for their coats ISN'T the fact that you're paying people to torture them all to death for the sake of "fashion" in an apparently-endless cycle… the problem is that you freed some of them, and they rearranged the food chain of the wilderness that only humans have a God-given right to destroy and reconstruct at will? Got it.

    She presents a picture of five minks sharing a fish as some sort of evidence of The Great Mink Terror, and mentions that some bird populations have been significantly impacted. Fine — what about every other animal? What about humans? No attention to them, whatsoever? Was she too busy doing her makeup to consider the billions of fish and birds that we kill?

    She has to know how absurd this talk really is…

    She's a propagandist for the most viciously-invasive species of all time. 

    She has to notice.

    Her solution to helping the environment is not mass education, elimination of poverty, conscientious depopulation, decreased dependence on international trade, direct democracy, or any of the many other ways that we can broadly support our biosphere — her solution is to study and "control" (i.e., slaughter en masse) a few of the "invasive species" (i.e., human-relocated species) — presumably by encouraging people to go out and shoot animals with guns.

    Of course, the only truly-invasive species — homo sapiens — needs no aggressive adjustments — or, at the very least, we should definitely focus on minks, first, because clearly THEY are the dominant threat to life on Earth.

    It sure seems to me that the speaker just wanted an excuse to give a speech — either that, or else she was told what to say by someone who writes her checks.

    At the very least, she clearly hasn't given serious thought to species extinction, given that she is willing to spend 15 minutes blaming minks for decreasing the populations of certain bird species, with virtually no mention of ANY OTHER THREATS to ANY OTHER SPECIES by ANY OTHER SPECIES… (I know, I know, she briefly raged about how RABBITS are destroying the trees of Australia — RABBITS — you know, because RABBITS are so busy tearing down MILLIONS OF ACRES OF FOREST EVERY YEAR, in order to BUILD HOMES THAT NOBODY EVEN NEEDS [given that THERE IS ALREADY ADEQUATE VACANT PROPERTY TO HOUSE EVERY LIVING RABBIT] — damn rabbits, NEVER CRITICALLY EVALUATING THE FULL EXTENT OF THE IMPACT OF THEIR EVER-INCREASING POPULATION AND ITS EVER-INCREASING GREED — I really hope RABBITS can learn to ACCOMMODATE THE REST OF LIFE ON EARTH SOMEDAY, instead of RECKLESSLY CONSUMING LIKE MINDLESS ZOMBIES UNTIL EVERYTHING ELSE IS DEAD).

    Humans are the number-one contributor to species extinction on the planet, BY FAR.


    At least the birds can fly away from minks and lay eggs elsewhere, and the minks can't build CAFOs for birds.

    Nothing can escape the spreading onslaught of homo sapiens.

    If the speaker honestly cares about biodiversity, she should get a better job.

    Promoting veganism and conscientious depopulation will go a lot further than giving hunters an excuse to kill minks.

  • You are invited to: The #WhiteHomeLand Conference 2016 https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-whitehomeland-conference-2016-tickets-19927674210 No to #WhiteGenocide

  • One word…MEXICANS!

  • Propose on the spot

  • "Because of it's adaptability, it can be difficult to control"
    Remind you guys of anything?
    cough cough humans

  • good vid

  • Read "The Sixth Extinction" by Elizabeth Kolbert. The movement of "invasive species" from their natural habitat (where they have developed in the presence of their natural predators in a balanced ecology) to a place where they can do great destruction of other species (because they have no effective predators) is made possible primarily by the movement of human beings, who are the most devastating invasive species on earth. Breeding minks is an example. The destruction of habitats that prevent migration of many species is very important in the development of invasive species. This destruction of primarily created by human activity.

  • well that party really died… Why is no one laughing ?!
    Its science for f🐷cks sake !

  • nocturnal invasive probing.Just one more to store it for viewing.

  • After all, we humans are the worst and most destructive invasive species of all. We are more like a "mistake" in nature. But yes, next to humans, the biggest factors threatening biodiversity loss are invasive species.

  • Now a days people are so brainwashed, they even can't think clearly. I can easily write a paper showing invasive species kill other plants or animals. Also I can show them native species do that too. Academics are now a days do that, they show one side, skipping other to get funds. people are so naive!

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