12 June 2014 – Brazil’s World Cup mascot, Fuleco the three-banded armadillo, is under threat. Its habitat in Caatinga, Northeast Brazil, is being smothered by rubbervine, an invasive weed. Already thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in the 1990s, the armadillo has suffered a substantial decline in numbers over the past decade. Causes include loss of habitat.
Known as devil’s claw, rubbervine weed (Cryptostegia madagascariensis) was introduced to Brazil from its native Madagascar as an attractive ornamental plant, but has since gone on to become a highly invasive weed in Brazil’s semi-arid northeast. The vine, capable of smothering vast areas of forest and forming an impenetrable mass, is threatening the home of this rare armadillo.
The weed is killing native trees and preventing the movement of animals and humans, and because it produces lots of seeds and toxic sap, standard control methods are extremely difficult, as well as hazardous.
Aside from endangering the habitat of Brazil’s World Cup mascot, rubbervine is jeopardizing the Carnauba palm, or ‘tree of life’. Some areas of palm, whose wax has been sustainably harvested by local communities for centuries and kickstarted the fortunes of the S.C. Johnson Corporation, are now being abandoned due to the toxic invasive weed.
CABI’s Dr Dick Shaw, Regional Coordinator for Invasives in Europe & the Americas, says: “This invasion is at a relatively early stage and the weed has not yet reached its full potential extent. But, if no action is taken, a valuable resource and a unique ecosystem will be lost to Brazil and to the world.”
In collaboration with our Brazilian partners, CABI aims to develop a classical biological control (or biocontrol) programme to try to control the weed. This approach, involving the deliberate release of specialist natural enemies, has great potential; another very closely related rubbervine weed is well on the way to being completely controlled across 40,000km2 in Queensland, Australia, by a rust fungus researched by CABI. The work represents a highly effective and cost-efficient approach to controlling invasive alien weeds.
Universidade Estadual do Ceará
Universidade Federal de Viçosa