Honolulu, HI (PressExposure) October 16, 2011 -- In his recent doctoral dissertation, Professor Lawrence Roberge details the development and use of a unique form of Biological Weapon (BW) using Introduced Species. The hypothesis of his dissertation is that Non-Indigenous Species (NIS) (aka Introduced Species, Invasive Species, Exotic Species) could be used as a form of biological weapon (BW). The application of such a weapon could be used by a hostile nation as a strategic weapon or on a smaller scale as a form of bioterrorism by rouge nations or non-state actors (i.e. criminal organizations, terrorists, or "lone wolf" individuals).
The use of BW is defined as the deliberate use of a living agent or toxin to cause death or disease among citizens, animals or plants, but this could be expanded to include ecological niches and the living resources in that niche. The author's research explains how NIS could be used to disrupt or destroy ecosystems, public health, agricultural commodities, and even disrupt international trade of nations. Roberge explored how the NIS organisms can enter a new naïve ecosystem (e.g. forest, farmland, etc.) and damage the ecosystem by eliminate native species. The author's research notes that the number of individual organisms during the invasion will play a key role in the success of the invasion and colonization of the niche. Roberge draws parallels to common BW agents (e.g. Smallpox, Anthrax, Plague, and Wheat Rust) and the use of NIS as a BW in that both have a lag time before detectable impact, a limited time span before infection or invasion spreads, and the requirements that a sufficient number of individual organisms is essential for an infection or invasion to occur. The author further notes that time-lags in any BW (conventional or NIS) attack provide time for the aggressor to escape the target area after the attack as well as provide plausible deniability for the aggressor. Roberge found similarities in epidemiological outcomes between BW infections and NIS invasions by treating the subject (i.e. human, cattle, wheat field, or forest) in a similar fashion.
Roberge determined that the factors that contribute to the determination of NIS weaponization and efficiency include the prior invasive history of the organism as well as application of ecological niche modeling software such as GARP (Genetic Algorithm for Rule-set Prediction). While reviewing GARP applications, the author noted previous GARP analysis studies had laid the groundwork for three known bioweapon agents: Marburg virus, Dengue Fever, and Monkey pox.
The author developed a protocol for the development of NIS BW weaponization by analyzing such factors as the process of the attack, the vulnerabilities of nations and ecological niches, and the desired outcomes from the attack. The research notes that disrupted niches (e.g. wildfire damaged, polluted niches, construction roadways), monoculture of food crops, and nations with a dependence on a single or limited food staple crops increase the vulnerability to a NIS BW attack.
Roberge provides analysis of four potential examples of NIS BW attacks on the US:
Use of feral pigs as carriers of the Nipah virus to spread the disease to humans, cattle, and wildlife.
Introduction of the plant parasite, Striga, into corn fields to create economic havoc on corn commodity markets and biofuel production.
Introduction into the continental US of the Heartwater pathogen (Ehrlichia ruminantium) via the Tropical Bont Tick (Amblyomma variegatum) which would destroy wildlife (e.g. deer) as well as severely impact the cattle industry and possibly infect humans.
Use of the common Barberry plant (Berberis vulgaris) to help spread Wheat Stem Rust (Puccinia graminis f. st. tritici) across the Midwest US eventually leading to a decline or decimation of Wheat production.
The author research on the array of distribution pathways ranges from low-tech plans of smuggling and use of migratory animals (birds, insects) to high tech aerial dispersal tools such as cruise missiles (including the near stealth Russian Club-K system) to enhance pin-point delivery of NIS organisms to the target niche sites. Roberge also notes that NIS BW could include the application of "Invasion Meltdown", whereby the subsequent introduction of multiple NIS species on the same niche alters the ecosystem to enhance the invasion of other NIS species and lead to the collapse of the naïve ecosystem and extinction of the ecosystem's naïve species.
The author discusses in final chapters the methods to detect or discern a deliberate NIS BW attack as well as determining what counterstrategies are necessary to intercept, detect, and disrupt or eradicate future NIS BW attacks. Finally, the author notes that although the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention (BTWC) would ban such NIS BW development and use, the author recommends future discussion of confidence measures to monitor for NIS BW events and clarify the ban on this form of BW.
The author completed his dissertation (Ph. D. in Biology) at Atlantic International University which has campuses in Honolulu, HI and Miami, FL. His advisor was Dr. Franklin Valcin. The author is presently Associate Professor of Anatomy & Physiology at Laboure College (Boston, MA).
Original Title of Dissertation: Introduced Species as a form of Biological Weapon.
Editor Note: The author can be contacted via his home office: 413-262-3096 Dr. Franklin Valcin can be contacted at Atlantic International University: 808-521-1868.