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Dr Sterrer to give a lecture on Island’s biodiversity

Royal Gazette

By Jessie Moniz
Published Jul 11, 2013 at 8:03 am

A local natural history expert will explore some of the miraculous ways that Bermuda’s plants and animals found their way to the Island, tomorrow evening at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI).

Dr Wolfgang Sterrer, curator of the Natural History Museum at the Aquarium, will give the lecture called “Bermuda’s Biodiversity: Native? Invasive? — Where Does it All Come From?”.

This is the second lecture in the Lionfish Taskforce Lecture Series presented by the BUEI and the Lionfish Taskforce.

RG_130711_1a.jpeg
An adult male Bermuda skink. Thousands of years ago a pair of skinks or perhaps a pregnant
female probably caught a ride to Bermuda on a drifting log. Photo by Glenn Tucker.

“This series of lectures is about invasives, but I am going to put them into the context of the larger picture,” said Dr Sterrer. “I am going to look at where all the plants and animals in Bermuda came from, and how this kaleidoscope of living things here is changing.”

He said the term invasive is commonly misunderstood in Bermuda.

Dr Sterrer said not every introduced species is automatically invasive.

“Invasive is not a very precise term,” he said. “One has to understand that once a new species arrives somewhere, then the next question is, ‘is it going to survive and thrive’.

“Only if it starts taking over from other species and pushing it to extinction, is it called invasive.”

Dr Sterrer said in the case of Bermuda’s natives and endemics it’s pretty amazing that some species found their way to a tiny speck of land in the middle of the ocean, hundreds of miles from other land.

RG_130711_1b.jpeg
The endemic Bermuda killifish - a tiny fish one to two inches in size - is threatened in freshwater and brackish
ponds and has been found to be important to mosquito control, helping to prevent breeding and diseases such
as Dengue Fever. Red-eared slider terrapins - imported and then introduced to the wild during the popular
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze of the 1990s - have been found to be a threat to the killifish.

“How can little land animals, birds, plants or spiders, or anything, make it across the ocean?” he said. “You have to ask this question for practically any organism we find here.

“You have to ask: how did it make it? How long has it been here? Is it an endemic species?

“Has it evolved here? Is it in contact with the original population?”

For example, it is thought that thousands of years ago a black skink may have floated across the ocean on a log or dead tree, probably from Florida.

“It could have been one pregnant female,” said Dr Sterrer. “That accounts for the beginning of an Island species.

“We call this the founder effect. All the skinks in Bermuda are probably very closely related.”

Today the Bermuda skink is only found in Bermuda and is considered one of the rarest lizards in the world.

Dr Sterrer said the processes that introduced new species to our shores thousands of years ago still go on today.

Thankfully, the process doesn’t normally move very quickly.

“The rule of thumb is it takes 10,000 years for a new species to establish itself,” he said.

Doors at BUEI open at 6.30pm, followed by the lecture at 7pm tomorrow evening (Friday).

Tickets are $15 and available by calling 294-0204 or visiting Oceans Gift Shop at BUEI. There is a special menu at The Harbourfront restaurant. Advance purchase is required.