The introduction of new species to other territories could have unforeseen consequences. According to a study published in Molecular Ecology, introducing new species to an area could bring along other organisms and pathogens.

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One such case dates back three decades when caterpillars of the Glanville fritillary (Melitaea cinxia) butterfly were introduced to the tiny island of Sottunga in the Åland archipelago. Scientists hoped that introducing the butterflies would foster an understanding of how they spread. What the scientists did not realize is that they were introducing at least three other species.

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It was later discovered that some of the caterpillars contained a parasitic wasp known as Hyposoter horticola. This wasp usually hides inside the caterpillar and bursts out before it can become a butterfly. But that’s not all. Inside the wasps were tinier, rarer “hyperparasitoid” wasps, known as Mesochorus cf. stigmaticus. The hyperparasitoid wasps kill the original wasps shortly after the wasps kill the caterpillar.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Anne Duplouy of the University of Helsinki, says that scientists must learn more about species before introducing them to new territories. “The reintroduction of endangered species comes from the heart, a good place, but we have a lot to learn about the species we are reintroducing and the habitat where we want to reintroduce them before we do so,” said Duplouy.

One additional visitor, the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis, came along with the wasps. Despite these surprising developments, each species continues to survive on the island.

Since the butterflies were introduced along with the accidental parasites, they have spread further to other islands. The wasps are parasites and have consequently affected the other species of butterflies that existed on these islands. According to Duplouy, when such species are introduced, they crash over time and may not last long. However, with the Glanville fritillary, the case has been different. 

“The Glanville fritillary population has had amazing crashes at times over the last 30 years and we were expecting there to be very low genetic diversity in the years following those crashes,” Duplouy said. “But this butterfly somehow seems to recover from isolated population crashes, and the genetic diversity in Åland is still impressively high, despite all the bottlenecks the butterfly has been through,” she added.

These results could serve as a warning for future studies exploring the possibility of introducing new species.

Via The Guardian

Lead image via Pixabay