Invasion of the aliens

Invasion of the aliens
At least one hungry arowana has been found in Nee Soon’s delicate freshwater swamp forests, where the fearsome predator threatens to chomp up rare native fish and crustaceans.

A deadly alien invasion is quietly creeping into Singapore, and scientists plan to use DNA analysis to combat it.

Frogs have been found plagued with fungal diseases never before seen here, giant African land snails have shown up in the Botanic Gardens, and at least one hungry arowana has been found in Nee Soon's delicate freshwater swamp forests, where the fearsome predator threatens to chomp up rare native fish and crustaceans.

Singapore has a sizeable immigrant population of non-native animal, fish and plant species.

It's not clear exactly how many aliens there are but a National Parks Board list updated in 2009 threw up 67 species of such freshwater fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. Plants, insects and marine life, however, were not counted.

Last month, about 100 researchers gathered at a symposium on climate change, aquatic invasive species and coastal restoration to discuss what has been found here, what the potential impacts are, and new ways of tracking down invaders.

National University of Singapore herpetologist or amphibian and reptile specialist David Bickford pointed to the religious practice of animal release as one way alien species enter the environment.

Last year, Assistant Professor Bickford and his colleagues found two wild frogs that tested positive for the chytrid fungus, now decimating frogs in the Americas, Australia, Africa and Europe.

The fungus can cause devastating skin infections in frogs, and the infected amphibians were found at sites where devotees perform the traditional practice of releasing animals.

Foodfish aquaculture, deliberate release and the pet trade are some other ways that non-native fish make it into Singapore's reservoirs and streams, said NUS ichthyologist or fish specialist Tan Heok Hui.

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