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Boats move over water hyacinths, an invasive species which can quickly cover bodies of water, in Bangladesh. Photograph: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images
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Invasive species cost humans $423bn each year and threaten world’s diversity

Boats move over water hyacinths, an invasive species which can quickly cover bodies of water, in Bangladesh. Photograph: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images
Boats move over water hyacinths, an invasive species which can quickly cover bodies of water, in Bangladesh.
Photograph: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images

At least 3,500 harmful invasive species recorded in every region on Earth spread by human activity, says UN report


Invasive species can disrupt native ecosystems, outcompete native species, and cause harm to agriculture, forestry, and other industries. The estimate of $423 billion annually highlights the economic cost associated with managing and mitigating the effects of these invasive species.

Globally, there are over 3,500 documented harmful invasive species found in every region. These species, ranging from invasive mice preying on seabird chicks to non-native grasses exacerbating wildfires, spread primarily through human travel and trade. Their destructive impact extends to both humans and wildlife, potentially leading to extinctions and long-term damage to ecosystems.

Prominent scientists emphasize that the threat posed by invasive species is often downplayed, underestimated, or ignored. There are currently over 37,000 introduced alien species recognized globally, and approximately 200 new ones establish themselves each year. This underestimation of the invasive species issue underscores the need for greater awareness and action to address this growing concern.

While not all introduced species become invasive, experts emphasize that there are effective tools to mitigate their spread and impact, which can also contribute to the protection and restoration of ecosystems. Invasive alien species pose a significant threat to biodiversity, capable of causing irreversible damage to nature, including the extinction of local and global species, as well as posing risks to human well-being.

Professors Helen Roy, Aníbal Pauchard, and Peter Stoett, who led the research, highlight the importance of recognizing invasive species as a global challenge that can have local and even global consequences. They stress that considering biological invasions as solely someone else’s problem would be a costly mistake. These risks and challenges are pervasive, affecting people in every country, irrespective of their backgrounds or communities. Even Antarctica is not immune to the impact of invasive species, underscoring the global nature of this issue.

The assessment on invasive species, conducted by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the primary UN body focusing on biodiversity science, involved 86 experts, including scientists and Indigenous communities. This extensive research effort spanned over four and a half years and was recently approved by governments in Bonn.

This assessment builds upon a 2019 report that highlighted the dire situation of biodiversity, warning that one million species were at risk of extinction due to factors such as pollution, climate change, invasive species, exploitation of organisms, and land-use changes. Invasive species were identified as contributing to 40% of known animal extinctions. As a result, governments requested further research to gain a deeper understanding of the invasive species problem.

Top 3 invasive species:

Water hyacinth, also known as Pontederia crassipes, is a free-floating perennial aquatic plant native to tropical and subtropical South America. It has broad, thick, glossy, ovate leaves that can grow up to 1 m (3 ft) in height.
Water hyacinth, also known as Pontederia crassipes, is a free-floating perennial aquatic plant native to tropical and subtropical South America. It has broad, thick, glossy, ovate leaves that can grow up to 1 m (3 ft) in height.

Water Hyacinth

This aquatic plant, native to tropical South America, is known for blocking waterways and causing damage to fisheries. Its rapid growth and ability to cover large areas of water can disrupt aquatic ecosystems and impact local economies.

Lantana is a genus of about 150 species of perennial flowering plants in the verbena family, Verbenaceae. They are native to tropical regions of the Americas and Africa but exist as introduced species in numerous areas, especially in the Australian-Pacific region, South and Northeastern part of India.
Lantana is a genus of about 150 species of perennial flowering plants in the verbena family, Verbenaceae. They are native to tropical regions of the Americas and Africa but exist as introduced species in numerous areas, especially in the Australian-Pacific region, South and Northeastern part of India.

Lantana

Lantana is a flowering shrub that has become invasive in many regions. It can outcompete native vegetation and alter ecosystems. Its toxicity to livestock and wildlife is also a concern.

The black rat is known to cause diseases such as typhus, food-poisoning, and trichinosis, and through predation and competition, they have contributed to the endangerment or even the extinction of many species of wildlife.
The black rat is known to cause diseases such as typhus, food-poisoning, and trichinosis, and through predation and competition, they have contributed to the endangerment or even the extinction of many species of wildlife.

Black Rat

The black rat is a notorious invasive species that has spread to various parts of the world. It can have detrimental effects on local wildlife, agriculture, and human health.

Other examples include invasive mosquito species like Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti. These mosquitoes are vectors for diseases like West Nile virus and Zika virus, making them a significant public health concern in areas where they have become established. Managing and controlling these invasive species is crucial for ecosystem health, economic stability, and public safety.


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The distribution of invasive species reports and their associated costs is as follows:

  1. Americas: The Americas had the highest number of invasive species reports, accounting for 34% of all reports.
  2. Europe and Central Asia: This region accounted for 31% of the reports on invasive species.
  3. Asia Pacific: The Asia Pacific region was responsible for 25% of invasive species reports.
  4. Africa: Reports from Africa made up 7% of the total.

In terms of ecosystems impacted:

  • Three-quarters (75%) of the reports pertained to terrestrial ecosystems, with a focus on woodlands and boreal forests.

The concerning trend highlighted is the significant increase in the cost of biological invasions. The authors noted that these costs had risen by 400% every decade since 1970. This increase in costs is projected to continue rising in the future. This underscores the urgency of addressing invasive species and implementing effective management and prevention measures to mitigate their economic and ecological impacts.

The presence and spread of invasive species globally are causing concerns about the loss of unique communities of life. As invasive species become more common, ecosystems around the world are starting to look increasingly similar. This loss of biodiversity and ecosystem distinctiveness can have negative consequences for ecosystem functioning and resilience. Hawaii serves as a troubling example of these challenges, with multiple global drivers of biodiversity loss interacting and exacerbating the situation.

The expert assessment identified a range of strategies to combat the spread and impact of invasive species, aligning with targets agreed upon at the biodiversity conference (COP15) in Montreal in December. Notably, the report highlighted that eradication programs on islands, which are particularly vulnerable to invasive species, have shown a remarkable 88% success rate. This underscores the effectiveness of focused efforts to control and eliminate invasive species, especially in critical island ecosystems.

The success story of Redonda, a one-mile-long island in Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean, demonstrates the positive impact of removing invasive species. After the removal of invasive black rats and feral goats in 2017, native vegetation, birds, and reptiles were able to make a remarkable comeback. This transformation turned the once barren and grey rock into a vibrant and green island, showcasing the potential for ecosystem recovery and restoration when invasive species are effectively managed and eradicated.

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Experts emphasize the importance of shifting the focus towards preventing the spread of invasive species rather than relying solely on costly eradication programs. Prevention is regarded as the most effective approach, and it includes measures such as implementing biosecurity protocols, strengthening border controls, and conducting risk assessments for non-native species intentionally introduced to new areas.

The report highlighted a significant gap in addressing invasive species at the national level. Despite the recent global target set by the UN to control the spread of invasive species, 84% of countries lack specific national legislation or regulations to address this issue. However, some nations, such as New Zealand, have adopted ambitious policies aimed at eradicating invasive species from their islands by mid-century, demonstrating the potential for proactive and comprehensive approaches to invasive species management.



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