(ORDO NEWS) — The rapid spread of invasive species poses a serious threat to ecosystems around the world, causing enormous damage to crops, forests and biodiversity. Despite efforts to control their spread, humanity has been unable to stop their advance, with devastating consequences.
A major scientific assessment by the UN Convention on Biodiversity’s Intergovernmental Scientific Advisory Panel (IPBES) estimates that the economic cost of invasive species exceeds $400 billion a year, equivalent to the GDP of Denmark or Thailand. However, this staggering figure is likely a “gross underestimate,” highlighting the urgency of addressing this global crisis.
The report finds that more than 37,000 alien species have established themselves far from their places of origin, wreaking havoc on ecosystems around the world. The impact of invasive species is wide and varied, from hyacinth choking Lake Victoria in East Africa to rats and brown snakes decimating bird populations in the Pacific.
Moreover, the number of invasive species has been steadily increasing, with damage from them quadrupling per decade since 1970. Economic expansion, population growth and climate change are expected to exacerbate the problem by increasing both the frequency and extent of biological invasions.
Unfortunately, only 17% of countries have passed laws or regulations to effectively control invasive species. This lack of preparedness leaves ecosystems vulnerable and adds to the economic burden these invaders bear. Whether invasive species are introduced accidentally or intentionally, humans are ultimately responsible for their spread. This phenomenon provides concrete evidence that rapid human expansion has led to radical changes in natural systems, as a result of which the Earth has entered a new geological era, called the Anthropocene.
Invasive species are often introduced through a variety of routes. For example, the water hyacinth that infested Lake Victoria was originally brought to Rwanda by Belgian colonialists as an ornamental garden flower. Likewise, the Florida Everglades today are infested with the destructive offspring of former pets and houseplants such as Burmese pythons and walking catfish.
In New Zealand, English settlers introduced rabbits for hunting and food, which led to the importation of stoats to control their numbers. However, this decision led to the destruction of numerous endemic bird species. These examples serve as a cautionary tale about the unintended consequences that arise when attempting to control one invasive species with another.
Some species of invasive organisms are introduced into the Mediterranean Sea intentionally, but many enter it accidentally, ending up in the ballast water of cargo ships, containers or even tourists’ suitcases.
Thus, the Mediterranean Sea is home to various species of fish and plants, including lion fish and killer algae, which came here from the Red Sea through the Suez Canal. In addition, murder hornets, which can wipe out entire bee colonies in a single attack, are believed to have entered the United States from Asia as free riders in cargo shipments.
The growing threat posed by invasive species requires immediate action on a global scale. Governments and organizations must prioritize implementing comprehensive management strategies to prevent further damage to ecosystems and economies.
Elaine Murphy, a scientist with New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, stresses the importance of learning from past mistakes and abandoning ineffective control measures. The scientific community, policymakers, and stakeholders must work together to develop innovative solutions and commit resources to combat this environmental crisis before irreparable damage occurs.
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