Human Ecology of a Species Introduction: Interactions between Humans and Introduced Green Iguanas in a Puerto Rican Urban Estuary

Article excerpt

This paper reports results of interdisciplinary research between anthropologists and wildlife ecologists about the interactions between people and introduced green iguanas (Iguana iguana) in the San Juan Bay Estuary in Puerto Rico. Non-indigenous, introduced species and their impact on invaded ecosystems, including humans, are a worldwide environmental concern. Humans are the dominant species in most world ecosystems, and, thus, studying an introduced species' interactions with people is of utmost importance to understand its impacts, make predictions, and inform environmental policy. Here, we detail some remarkable findings of our ongoing research in this topic, including (1) the spatial distribution of introduced green iguanas with respect to people's activities and land uses, (2) the intracultural variation in attitudes and values regarding introduced iguanas and other introduced species in the study region, (3) local people's knowledge about iguana diets in the estuary, and (4) the interactions between green iguanas and the tourism industry in Puerto Rico.

Key words: human ecology, species introductions, green iguanas, urban estuaries, Puerto Rico, Caribbean

Introduction

Non-indigenous, introduced species and their impact on invaded ecosystems are a worldwide concern (Pfeiffer and Voeks 2008; Temple 1990; Vitousek et al. 1 996). By some accounts, introduced species pose one of the greatest threats to the global environment, similar in magnitude to industrial pollution, habitat destruction, and global warming (Pimentel et al. 2000; Vitousek et al. 1996). Globalization and the increasing connectivity among human populations and their economies have accelerated the rates of species introductions (Lodge et al. 2006). Still, concern for introduced species is not new, and spirited debates about whether introduced plants and animals are good or bad have been raging for over a century in both sides of the Atlantic Ocean (Coates 2007; Elton 1958; Howard 1897).

When a species of organism is introduced to a new location, it becomes subject to complex interactions with the biotte and abiotic components of the local ecosystem, including the humans who live in the area. The nature of these interactions will determine whether the species will become established and whether it will have a minor or major impact in the structure of the host ecosystem. Interactions with humans are especially important because these will determine whether the new species will be classified as beneficial, harmless, a nuisance, or hazardous, and, thus, what course of action and policy will be taken in respect to the introduced species. Most ecosystems where novel species are introduced are also heavily impacted by anthropogenic activities, thus making it difficult to explain invasions purely on biological terms apart from human activities, perceptions, and policies (Sax et al. 2007).

This article reports results of ongoing interdisciplinary research about social-ecological changes resulting from the introduction of a large introduced arboreal lizard - the green iguana (Iguana iguana) - to the coastal forests of the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Specifically, in this article, we focus on human perceptions and economic interactions resulting from this species introduction. Green iguanas have become established in Puerto Rico's coastal and riparian forests since having been introduced to the island by pet enthusiasts beginning as early as the 1970s. As evidenced by extensive local press coverage of the green iguana, this species, along with the small Indian mongoose (Herpestes javanicus), the Patas monkey (Eiythrocebus patas), the rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta), and the spectacled cayman (Caiman crocodilus), has become one the most discussed additions to Puerto Rico's vertebrate fauna.

Species introductions and their impacts in populated coastal areas are multi-dimensional phenomena that transcend traditional scientific discipline boundaries. …