Scenario analysis on the use of rodenticides and sex-biasing gene drives for the removal of invasive house mice on islands

Abstract

Since the 1960s conservation efforts have focused on recovering island biodiversity by eradicating invasive rodents. These eradication campaigns have led to considerable conservation gains, particularly for nesting seabirds. However, eradications are complex and lengthy endeavors and are even more challenging when humans are co-inhabitants of the targeted island. Furthermore, the method of eradication matters and recent proposals to consider genetic technologies for rodent eradication require specific scrutiny. One such technology is the potential use of a gene drive for biasing offspring sex ratios in invasive house mice, Mus musculus, that would spread and prevent the production of one sex, allowing die-off from lack of reproduction and natural attrition. Practitioners can gain insight into the potential for adoption of this technology from examining stakeholder engagement. This paper uses scenario analysis to address the eradication of rodents on inhabited and uninhabited islands, by specifically comparing the traditional approach of using rodenticides with sex-biasing gene drives. Concurrently the International Union for Conservation of Nature is assessing the risks and value of gene drives in general for conservation. Hence, we make the case that the ethical challenges with the use of gene drive sex-biasing techniques and the effectiveness of this tool will rely as much on its public acceptance and its democratic use as the actual science used to construct the technology.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the reviewers of the manuscript as well as the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University for bringing these authors together. Authors Serr and Valdez were supported through a National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Grant #1068676.

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Serr, M.E., Valdez, R.X., Barnhill-Dilling, K.S. et al. Scenario analysis on the use of rodenticides and sex-biasing gene drives for the removal of invasive house mice on islands. Biol Invasions 22, 1235–1248 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-019-02192-6

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Keywords

  • Preserving island biodiversity
  • Rodent eradications
  • Synthetic biology
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Public perceptions