DNA tracking could help fight against ‘ninja-turtle’ pest

A new scientific publication, commissioned by the Victorian Government, confirms that eradication of an established pest species can be extremely resource intensive and costly, and recommends future investment in novel tools such as innovative monitoring techniques and improved prevention strategies.

The research, published in the journal Biological Invasions, analyses a series of programs to eradicate or control the invasive red-eared slider turtle from southern Europe. They are also a growing local and national threat, with the turtles periodically appearing in many capital cities in Australia.

To address this emerging invasive species issue, the Victorian Government proactively commissioned work to understand how Australia can improve the management of this reptile pest.

Lead author of the study, Pablo Garcia-Diaz, who recently completed his PhD with the University of Adelaide and the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, collaborated with scientists from Australia, Spain and Portugal and he suggests that we need better tools to confirm eradication of pest species.

“Our paper recommends that, given the low capture rates of some pest species (like the slider turtle), alternative methods need to be considered such as environmental DNA and visual surveys,” Mr Garcia-Diaz said.

Environmental DNA is a new technology which detects small DNA traces that an animal releases into their environment, such as skin cells or faeces – avoiding the need for physical capture.

“Successful management (and potentially eradication) of pest species requires approaches from multiple disciplines, and a serious commitment for science to inform policy development.” Mr Garcia-Diaz added.

However, the management of slider turtle is extremely costly.

“One of the control projects evaluated in the paper had a budget equivalent to one and half million dollars, over a 2-year period.

“If eradication is as resource-intensive as our work demonstrates, then we also need significant investment in prevention programs,” Mr Garcia-Diaz added.

This work is an important step in stopping one of the 100 worst invasive species becoming established in Australia, before it is too late.

You can read the research publication ‘Challenges in confirming eradication success of invasive red-eared sliders’ via Biological Invasions.

For more information on Australia’s incursions research visit PestSmart.