Invasive species put Oman’s biodiversity at risk
January 31, 2018 | 10:35 PM
by Maqsood Maniyar/[email protected]
Mesquite is a native tree of Mexico, South America and the Caribbean. It is invasive not only in Oman but everywhere, including Africa, India, Asia, and Australia. –File photo

Muscat: Invasive species are posing a serious risk to the ecosystems and biodiversity of Oman, experts have revealed.

An invasive species is a plant, animal, bird or microorganism that is not native to an area but is introduced into the ecosystem by humans. These species tend to spread to such a degree that they harm the environment, economy and human health.

However, not all introduced species are invasive, as most of them cause no damage.

A host of invasive species have made their way into Oman. These include birds, such as the common myna, rose-ringed parakeet and house crow; fish such as tilapia; and trees such as the mesquite and particularly the tree called “Ghaf Al Bahri” in Oman.

Reginald Victor, a professor at the Biology Department of Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) said invasive birds pose a threat to their native counterparts. The common myna, native to South Asia, was first recorded in 1982 and is one of the most abundant birds found in Oman.

“Mynas are out-competing other birds. They are aggressive, work better in groups and eat a wide range of food, and controlling their numbers will not be easy,” Victor noted.

Mynas are known to destroy nests and the young ones of other birds, damage crops and consume bees, thereby reducing the bee population. Victor added that another bird that may become potentially invasive in Oman is the red-vented bulbul.

“The red-vented bulbul is an introduced species from the Indian subcontinent. There are good reasons to believe that the numbers of the red-vented bulbuls have increased in northern Oman in the last few years while the numbers of the once common white-spectacled bulbuls seem to be reducing,” he said.

Research papers

The SQU professor revealed that he and his team have published research papers on the invasive rose-ringed parakeet and are working on the status of the common myna in Oman. Victor added that their next task will be to study the proliferation of house crows, another invasive species.

Tilapia is an invasive fish species, now common in Oman. “The tilapia is native to Africa. However, it has made its way into Oman and may pose a serious threat to fish diversity in natural freshwaters,” the professor stated.

Mesquite is a native tree of Mexico, South America and the Caribbean. It is invasive not only in Oman but everywhere, including Africa, India, Asia, and Australia. “Mesquite was originally brought here as an ornamental plant, but now, it is everywhere. Containing it will be a challenge,” Victor added.

Khaled Al Hashmi, biological oceanographer at SQU, said he had come across invasive species of algae off the coast of Oman during a research study.

“A devastating bloom of Cochlodinium polykrikoides appeared for the first time in Oman’s coastal waters in November 2008 and covered the entire Arabian Gulf and Sea of Oman for more than 10 months. Ballast water (water carried on boats) might be the reason for the introduction of this invasive species in the coastal waters of Oman,” he pointed out.

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