Turning back the tide of invasive species

Invasive species are a huge problem, particularly in Australia which (biologically speaking) has been isolated from the rest of the world for millennia. Foxes, cats, invasive plants, invasive diseases, and even invasive toads have had a huge impact on Australia’s biodiversity since European arrival. Researchers at the School of BioSciences have developed innovative strategies for dealing with invasive species, at all levels. We have developed sophisticated models for optimizing biosecurity investment (to prevent new invaders arriving); we have developed new strategies for containment (e.g., developing waterless barriers to prevent the further spread of cane toads); we have developed new strategies for mitigation (e.g., evolving native species that can survive in the presence of the invader); and we are on the forefront of new genetic techniques (such as CRISPR, and Gene Drives) that may soon revolutionize our capacity to control and eradicate invasive species. Our work on evolution in invasive species is even being applied to an invader of personal concern to most people: cancer cells.

Management of invasive species requires an integrated approach, spanning expertise ranging from economic modeling through to rapid evolution, and molecular biology. Astonishingly enough, the School of BioSciences has this breadth of expertise, but it is yet to be harnessed in an integrated manner. The establishment of a Chair in Invasive Species would generate a powerful focal point to leverage the School’s formidable expertise toward this problem.