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Non-native species: The great scourge of ecosystems costs $423 billion a year

Ιχθυοκαλλιέργειες που πνίγονται από ξενόφερτους υάκινθους του νερού. Αβγά σπάνιων πτηνών που γίνονται βορά αρουραίων. Σωλήνες σταθμών ηλεκτροs that are clogged by invading mussels. Power lines falling from the weight of brown tree snakes.

These are some examples of the environmental chaos brought about by invasive alien species – animals, and microbes that spread to far-flung areas due to human activity and upset ecological balances.

Invasive species are a key factor in 60% of animal and plant extinctions, while the economic cost of the damage they cause has quadrupled every decade since the 1970s, it shows UN report.

Globally, the damages reached the astronomical figure of 2019 billion dollars in 423, the report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimates.

A total of 86 experts from 49 countries worked for four years to compile the report, which examined 3.500 invasive alien species.

Burmese pythons find welcoming new home in Florida (Reuters)

Species losses and diseases

Invasive species are a subset of the estimated 37.000 alien species that have been brought to new areas by humans – either as domesticated animals or cultivated plants or as stowaways on planes and ships. These species compete with local flora and fauna, damage crops and cause damage to infrastructure.

For example, the deadly wildfire that burned Maui, Hawaii last month was fueled by an African grass that had previously been introduced to the island as animal feed.

As the report points out, invasive alien species are now one of the top five causes of biodiversity loss, along with land-use change, direct exploitation of species, and pollution,.

"We know that the problem is going to get much, much worse," he said Reuters ecologist Helen Roy, member of the editorial team at IPBES;

Her rise s due to climate change is one of the reasons that some problem species increase their geographical spread. Among others, alien mosquito species that transmit diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and West Nile virus.

"Invasive species not only affect nature but also humans and cause a tremendous loss of life," said Anibal Poutchard of the Institute for Ecology and Biodiversity, a member of the editorial team.

The imported toad Rhinella marina is causing ecological chaos in Australia (Reuters)

Difficult to eliminate

About three-quarters of the impacts of invasive species are on land, especially forests and cultivated land.

Larger are often the environmental impacts of non-native animals, especially if they are predators, Roy pointed out.

On many islands, native species have evolved without the threat of predators and have no defenses against them, Pauchard said. “The New Zealand birds had no previous experience with rats until humans brought them. They build their nests at ground level," he explained.

New Zealand is currently trying to eradicate cats, which are responsible for the extinction of native species.

Rats and rabbits have been eliminated from some small islands, such as in French Polynesia, by traps and snares. But the rapidly reproducing populations of alien animals is a difficult task. The same applies to invasives, whose seeds can remain in the soil for years.

Prevention is certainly more effective, the report emphasizes, for example by strengthening biosecurity measures at borders and imported products.

Last December, the international community signed the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which aims to reduce the introduction of priority invasive species by at least 50% by 2030.


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