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The University of Southampton

Biological invasions threaten biodiversity, economy and human livelihood in developing countries

Published: 23 August 2016
Grey squirrel
Grey squirrel

Invasions from alien species such as Japanese Knotweed and grey squirrels threaten the economies and livelihoods of residents of some of the world’s poorest nations, new research involving the University of Southampton shows.

The damage caused by non-native species like the Harlequin ladybird and mink, threaten global biodiversity and cost global economies US$1.4 trillion annually. They can transmit disease, choke river systems and wells, prevent cattle from grazing, and out-compete or eat native species.

This is often seen as a “first world” problem. Experts have now shown these invasions are also threatening the last remaining biodiversity strongholds in the world’s most fragile economies. One sixth of the global land surface is highly vulnerable to invasion, including substantial areas in developing nations and areas with diverse species of birds and plants.

Increasing globalisation, especially imports of pets and plants, has have caused much of the biological invasions in the past. In the future, air travel will be responsible for biological invasions of Africa and Asia. This will be exacerbated by climate change, and intensifying agriculture, which make it easier for invasive species to become established.

Rich nations are accustomed to the nuisance of invasive alien species, and are increasingly taking protective action. The study, published in the journal Nature Communications , outlines how poorer economies are crucially reliant on international trade and have little power to regulate imports, so the introduction of highly dangerous species continues unchecked.

Researchers have evaluated the global 21st century threat from invasive species, and have found many developing nations do not have the resources or plans needed to respond properly. They hope their findings will lead to governments and NGOs improving schemes to warn communities of the threats of biological invasion and provide solutions.

Co-author Professor Andy Tatem , from Geography and Environment at the University of Southampton, said: “Through integrating different datasets, representing how our globalised world is connected through travel and trade, with global maps of the environments that are now being impacted, we are able to highlight where invasive species pose the greatest threats.”

The researchers collected information about trade, particularly plants and pets and air travel and compared this to information about climate change, wildlife and agriculture to model where invasions are likely to be identified.

Biological invasions in the developing world so far have included panama disease, which wiped out banana plantations in Central and South America, and prickly pear, which devastates grassland in Africa, leading to cattle being malnourished and people losing their livelihoods. A new strain of panama disease currently threatens the global banana market.

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