Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

How Ireland's native mammals could be on the brink of extinction

Native Irish pine marten
Native Irish pine marten
Irish hare
Irish hare
Red squirrel
Red squirrel

Ireland's native mammals are under serious threat – to the point of extinction here – unless both governments take action against invasive alien species, a Belfast academic has warned.

Compared to other countries, Ireland has very few small mammals, but what we do have – including red squirrels, the Irish hare and the pine marten – is under threat from invaders like the grey squirrel, mink, brown hare, Sika deer, bank vole and the greater white-toothed shrew, according to Ian Montgomery, Professor of Animal Ecology at Queen's School of Biological Sciences.

Alien mammals are also now appearing in Ireland much more frequently than in the past, he said.

The scientist said a quarter of all mammals worldwide are under threat of extinction.

His warnings come as 600 of the world's leading wildlife experts gather in Belfast this week for the 11th International Mammalogical Congress (IMC11) which is being held at Queen's. IMC is held every four years and brings together wildlife researchers from all over the world.

Mammalogy is the scientific study of the biology of mammals – from the smallest insectivore to the largest whale – especially how they adapt to their environment, their behaviour and interactions and conflict with people.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Professor Montgomery said: "We are delighted and honoured to welcome so many eminent scientists and leading experts to Queen's. Research tells us that without conservation measures many more mammals would be at risk of extinction as the situation would be 20% worse.

"It is critical that we really understand the basic biology of mammals as well as the environmental processes at work.

"Often it is a combination of factors, over-exploitation, habitat loss, climate change or disease that undermines conservation efforts. IMC11 represents a great opportunity to exchange experiences and the latest in ground-breaking research across the world."

Topics being discussed throughout the six-day conference include reintroducing rare mammals across the globe like the wolf and beaver, and threats to people from big cats including tigers.

Researchers will also be revealing the latest findings into the role of mammals in diseases that affect people as well as livestock and the impact of land management on mammal populations.

The importance of events like IMC11 was highlighted by veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough last month when he received an honorary degree from Queen's for exceptional services to science and broadcasting.

He said: "For 500 years, universities have been the guardians of the truth, the discovery of the truth and the proclaiming of the truth and that's never been more so than today."

The renowned naturalist praised students from Queen's School of Biological Sciences and told them that they would be at the forefront of preserving and restoring the planet.

The conference at Queen's is the first time the congress has been held in Europe since 1989 when it was held in Rome.

For further information visit www.qub.ac.uk.

FACTFILE

Ireland's most unwanted invasive mammals:

  • * Black rat
  • * Brown rat
  • * Feral ferret
  • * Grey squirrel
  • * Muntjac deer
  • * Wild boar

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