Some invasive species targeted for total eradication bounce back with a vengeance, especially in aquatic systems, finds a study led by the University of California, Davis.

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The study, published today in the journal PNAS, chronicles the effort — and failure — to eradicate invasive European green crabs from a California estuary. The crabs increased 30-fold after about 90 percent had been removed. The study is the first experimental demonstration in a coastal ecosystem of a dramatic population increase in response to full eradication.

“A failure in science often leads to unexpected directions,” said lead author Edwin (Ted) Grosholz, a professor and ecologist with the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy. “We slapped our foreheads at the time, but with thought and understanding, it’s told us a lot about what we shouldn’t be doing and provided a way forward for us. The world should get less focused on total eradication and work toward functional eradication.”

“Functional eradication” is described in a study led by the University of Alberta, co-authored by Grosholz, and published in the March issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The authors consider this a more effective approach to invasive species management, particularly regarding species for which total eradication is unlikely.

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