Episode 2: Cane Toads: The Conquest

In 1935 in Queensland, Australia, a frightening menace took its first steps, or rather hops, into a strange land. The Cane Toad was introduced in an effort to control the population of sugar cane beetles that were damaging the lucrative crop. Instead, they ignored the pests completely and wreaked havoc on the natural environment, leaving dead pets and wildlife in their wake due to their potent poison-glands. One silver lining? The delightfully wacky 2010 documentary Cane Toads: The Conquest, directed by Mark Lewis.

Cane Toads are a particularly high-profile invasive species, but these kind of man-made invasions have happened a lot in our history, and have far reaching effects. Beyond obvious damage to native species and ecological communities, the total loss to the world economy as a result of invasive non-native species has been estimated at 5% of annual production, or around $4 trillion. It should be pointed out, however, that many of these crops being impacted by invasive non-natives are themselves non-native, like the aforementioned sugar cane in Australia.

In this episode, special guest Biologist Alex Brown joins us to discuss Cane Toads and other invasive species, man’s propensity to break apart ecosystems and then try to put them back together again, and why the most calamitous species to invade foreign lands is really the European WASP. Listen to the episode here or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play.

Updates from the Field:

Alex tells us that German scientists doing research in Uganda found that aquatic invertebrates find habitat and form ecosystems in the puddles formed by elephant footprints! Read more about it in The Scientist.

Jordan reminds us to recycle plastic bags and other plastic wrap by bringing it back to the grocery store. Find more information on how to recycle your plastic here.

Emily informs us that confectionery giant Mondelēz International has expanded their  Cocoa Life certification to include Cadbury brand chocolate. Cocoa Life is a $400 million sustainability program lunched in 2012 by Mondelēz in partnership with the Fairtrade Foundation.

What’s Giving Us Hope for the Earth:

Alex tells us about an international agreement between 24 countries and the EU to create the world’s largest marine reserve in the Ross Sea off Antarctica, south of New Zealand. It is 1.5 million square kilometers (580,000 square miles), or over twice the size of Texas. As a part of the agreement, commercial fishing has been moved away from crucial habitats and foraging areas for animals including the Weddell seal, killer whale and emperor penguin. Find out more here.

Emily is hopeful about a December report from Cargill that shows that 30% of American consumers regularly buy organic food, and 72% think about the way their food is farmed and produced. Cargill sees this as a sign that that “there is a real disruption occurring in the [food] marketplace.” Read more here.

Jordan is finding  a lot of hope in the future of solar energy. The cost of solar panels has dropped by 80% since 2008, making them much more accessible to middle class consumers and small businesses. Even Harvard professor David Keith who previously poo-pooed solar is changing his tune, as you can read in this paper where he claims that by 2020, non-subsidized, utility-scale solar energy “could very easily be below $20 per megawatt-hour,” making it “the cheapest electricity on the planet.” Exciting stuff!

Silvan read a great article on Grist about how Costa Rica was able to modernize their economy without the environmental destruction that commonly accompanies that process. Though Costa Rica is unique, some of the factors can be applied to other developing nations. She definitely recommends you check out the full article.

Suggested Further Reading:

An update on the Cane Toads from their 80th anniversary in Australia in 2015

One method of Cane Toad suppression seems to be having some success, though it has limitations.

Could Cane Toad’s poison have promise as a cancer treatment? Some researchers think so.

An interview with Ethan Zindler, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, tells us more about the state of solar energy today.

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