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The merits and risks of interfering to manage and protect wildlife is subject to debate.
Darwin’s finch nests aren’t the only habitats invaded by parasitic flies, which showed up in large numbers in the Galápagos in the 1990s. Knutie said the flies now infest all land birds there, including most of the 14 species of Darwin’s finches, two of which are endangered.
But the finches have no history with them and don’t appear to have developed biological or behavioral defenses against them, she said. "Also, we think there are no natural predators of the parasite on the Galápagos."
There’s potential for these birds to go extinct within the next century and saving them has become a top priority in the Galápagos.
"They are a major driver of eco-tourism. People go the Galápagos to see the finches that inspired Darwin," she said.
Knutie said permethrin-treated cotton could be tried on flea-bitten Florida scrub jays, feather lice-infested honeycreepers or black-tailed prairie dogs in the Great Plains threatened by plague-carrying fleas.
It has been used with nesting mice in the Northeast, but it was unclear whether it worked to kill Lyme disease-carrying ticks, she said.
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