Recipe for Disaster?

For some people, the solution for getting rid of invasive species appears simple: eat them. But we should think twice before adopting this strategy, scientists argue in an article accepted for publication in Conservation Letters. If people aren’t careful, chowing down on invasive animals and plants could lead to some unpleasant surprises.

Many invasive species have appeared on dinner plates before. There are entire cookbooks devoted to recipes using non-native plants or animals, and Louisiana chefs have incorporated nutria, an invasive rodent, into meals. But the idea of eradicating or controlling invasive species by eating them has become even more popular recently, with government agencies advocating the consumption of Asian carp and lionfish. The strategy makes sense at first glance: after all, humans’ appetites have decimated species such as Atlantic cod in the past.

However, such programs “could produce some unintended consequences, and they may produce results opposite to those proposed,” the authors write. To make a dent in the population, harvesters will need to remove enough individuals of the right ages. This task might not be easy; for example, lionfish populations may be tough to reduce since they recover quickly and are spread over a large area. If a campaign fails, frustrated participants may lose faith in the idea that invasive species can be controlled at all, the authors say.

People might also start to value an invasive species more if it is successfully integrated into local cuisine. Once residents start making money by hunting or raising these animals, they may oppose removing the species entirely, the researchers suggest. Some invasive species could even become an important part of local culture. The non-native wild boar, for instance, is now strongly linked to cultural traditions in the Hawaiian Islands.

Gastronomy campaigns do have the potential to raise conservation awareness, quickly detect the spread of invasive species, and funnel money into local economies. But the authors urge managers to proceed with caution, noting that “sometimes doing nothing (do not eat them) may be better than promoting their incorporation into the local culture or creating a market that can be a problem for future management programs.” Roberta Kwok | 8 May 2012

Source: Nunez, M.A. et al. 2012. Invasive species: To eat or not to eat, that is the question. Conservation Letters (Accepted Article) doi: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2012.00250.x.

Image © EugeneTomeev |