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Reactions: Invasive alien species an underestimated threat, says most comprehensive international report on them

According to a new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), human activities have introduced over 37,000 exotic species to regions around the world. The document highlights that more than 3,500 of these are harmful invasive exotic species that are often overlooked until it's too late.

04/09/2023 - 14:00 CEST
Expert reactions

Graciela - IPBES EN

Graciela Gómez Nicola

researcher in the Department of Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution

Science Media Centre Spain

The report can be considered a valuable global reference point for the responsible management of invasive alien species, as it is based on an up-to-date and comprehensive compilation of evidence on impacts on biodiversity, economics, food security and public health, coming from fields as varied as science and academia, management and decision-making, and local communities. One of the most valuable contributions of the report is its transdisciplinary approach, which is essential to guide management from now on and to assess lesser-known aspects, such as the direct relationship of invasive species with the quality of life of human beings or their often unpredictable interaction with other drivers of global change.  

This approach provides a clearer view of the magnitude of the problem on a global scale, as it confirms the impacts already identified previously, and also allows them to be documented and quantified more precisely, thereby highlighting a truly alarming situation, with environmental, economic and social costs that have never been seen before and that are growing exponentially. The situation reflects the acceleration of global consumption, which facilitates biological invasions through commercial and tourist routes.  

Although this is a global problem, the damage is suffered at the local level, therefore, society urgently needs accurate information and solutions, especially when biological invasions affect their well-being. The current situation must serve as a rallying point for effective international coordination and cooperation, addressing the roots of the problem and establishing a common roadmap. Meanwhile, governments must commit to and ensure compliance with invasive species management plans and regulations, allocating sufficient economic resources and sending a positive message to society, highlighting the successes achieved in the still scarce actions to combat invasive alien species. There are many tools and sufficient information to try to solve this global crisis, but an immediate and responsible response is urgently needed.

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest


Science Media Centre Spain

This new IPBES report on invasive alien species provides crucial information on invasive species trends and policy tools to tackle this global problem. While the targets are ambitious - especially considering the increase in global trade and travel - it has great potential to be a catalyst for implementing concrete actions against invasive species, which pose a growing and serious threat to biodiversity, as well as to human health in many cases. Although the biodiversity crisis is not as well known to the general public as the climate crisis, we are facing another major driver of global chang,e whose adverse effects on the environment and people continue to expand. While all ecosystems on the planet are vulnerable to invasions, islands are particularly so. Of the extinctions documented worldwide to this day, nearly 80% have occurred on islands, and the vast majority of these extinctions have been caused by invasive species. There is a real urgency to address the problem of invasive alien species and therefore this report is very relevant and pertinent at this time. 

The sound scientific basis provided by the report can help countries and stakeholders to understand and combat the ever-growing threat of invasive species. It provides tools and policies to identify and regulate pathways of introduction, as well as to eliminate or control established invasive species.  

Both at the international and at the national level, the approach that should be taken to combat the problem of invasive species, and to generate significant benefits to the natural environment and to society at large, needs to include various sectors related to biosecurity, such as trade, transport, human and plant health, economic development, and other related fields. 

Such an approach should be tailor-made and comprehensive and adapted to each individual situation. The report includes some very good and feasible options, in my view: consideration of coherent policies and codes of conduct across different sectors and scales; commitment and allocation of resources; public awareness and participation through citizen science outreach campaigns; open and interoperable information systems; addressing knowledge gaps (the authors identify more than 40 areas requiring research); as well as inclusive and fair governance. 

It would be important for decision-makers to consider the recommendations in this report as the fundamental basis for addressing this growing threat to both biodiversity and human well-being. Their commitment and action are essential to move towards the realisation of the targets set out in the Kunming-Montreal Global Framework for Biodiversity by 2030.

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest

Miguel - IPBES EN

Science Media Centre Spain

The IPBES report is the most comprehensive review carried out to date on the phenomenon of biological invasions, the result of the collective work of researchers from all over the world. The huge group and its efforts have broken down the barriers (of territories, species groups, impacts) of previous work. It is worth noting the report's emphasis on action, on pointing out that invasions are not something that will inevitably happen, but that we can act to stop them from happening and that, once they have started, we can also have options to reverse or dampen them. Finally, the report adds a social perspective that, perhaps, had not had the necessary relevance in previous works, which were more focused on purely biological aspects. 

In general, the picture presented in this review is in line with the results of the scientific work carried out to date. Invasions are highly dependent (in their development and impacts) on many factors, from climatic to biological and social, so it is not surprising that there may be studies with contradictory results. This is where the main value of the report lies, in analysing a huge amount of data to detect general patterns. 

The report highlights the enormous spatial biases in the availability of information. Almost all the data that is available comes from North America or Europe. This is not just a problem with the science of biological invasions, but with almost all scientific knowledge, which tends to be produced in very specific territories. I also think that the number of local extinctions is underestimated. In the Iberian Peninsula alone, and only with river fish, it is possible that there have been several dozen of these local extinctions. 

What I miss in the summary (and probably also in the report) is an explicit mention from IPBES about the philosophical/political currents derived from animal rights movements, which are growing in many parts of the world and can generate insurmountable obstacles for the management of invasions. The summary briefly mentions ethical aspects in relation to lethal control, giving as an example the invasive population of hippopotamuses in Colombia (the example of parrots in Madrid or Seville would be equally valid). But I think he misses the point of giving the problem the magnitude it really has. Animal rights movements are concerned with the welfare of animals, of each and every individual, regardless of the species to which they belong (which is why it calls itself anti-speciesist). This philosophical framework is completely incompatible with the management of invasions and is rapidly gaining momentum among governments around the world (Spain and Portugal are two clear examples).

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest

Pablo - IPBES EN

Pablo González-Moreno

Ramón y Cajal postdoctoral researcher in the department of Forest Engineering E.T.S.I.A.M. 

Science Media Centre Spain

El informe es quizá la síntesis más completa desarrollada hasta la fecha a nivel global sobre las tendencias, impacto y gestión de las especies exóticas invasoras. Toda la comunidad científica, y más en concreto los que nos centramos en la investigación sobre especies exóticas invasoras, estaba expectante por ver el resultado de los cuatro años de trabajo de más de 80 expertos y compañeros. Si bien solo tenemos por ahora accesible el resumen extendido, considero que el resultado tiene una calidad y detalle excepcional. Como aspecto clave, destaco que el informe va más allá de una evaluación del estado y tendencias de las invasiones biológicas como amenaza de la biodiversidad, incorporando un resumen exhaustivo de la importancia y éxito de las diferentes estrategias de gestión, así como poniendo en relieve la importancia de una gobernanza integrativa y adaptada a cada contexto que permita la colaboración de múltiples actores para llegar a soluciones flexibles y eficaces que eviten conflictos indeseados. Por otro lado, creo que este informe va a ser un elemento de base fundamental para el desarrollo de nuevas políticas y estrategias relacionadas con las invasiones biológicas y la conservación de la biodiversidad. En concreto, una de las aplicaciones más directas será para establecer la línea base de referencia de la meta recientemente acordada en el Marco mundial Kunming-Montreal de la diversidad biológica, que prevé la reducción a la mitad de la introducción de especies invasoras para 2030. Un reto extremadamente difícil, considerando el ritmo de crecimiento económico, pero fundamental para reducir la pérdida de la biodiversidad, especialmente en ecosistemas insulares.

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest

Elena Angulo - IPBES

Science Media Centre Spain

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is an intergovernmental organisation that seeks to strengthen and reconcile communication between science and policy, to conserve biodiversity, ecosystem services and human well-being. Today, a report on the invasion of alien species, their impact and management was adopted.
Invasive species are identified as one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss worldwide. Over four years, experts from around the world have compiled information on the current status, trends, impacts, influencing factors, management options and policy options for dealing with invasive alien species globally.
The report identifies these species as a major threat to nature, nature's contributions to people and quality of life. This is because they are being introduced into all regions of the world at an unprecedented rate, driven by global trade. The report warns that invasive alien species cause biodiversity changes, often irreversible, such as species extinctions. And they cost global economies billions of dollars, for example in agriculture, health, food or water security, with only 8% of these costs spent on managing them.
The report notes that the capacity of countries to deal with these species varies widely, but a coordinated response is needed at national and international levels. It also suggests collaboration and coordination at the level of the different economic sectors involved; accessible information and data to assess impacts; and increased public awareness, commitment and participation.   
It also describes decision frameworks and approaches that can help short- and long-term management, highlighting prevention and early detection and eradication among the most effective tools.  Containment and control can be useful tools when the species cannot be eradicated.
In conclusion, the report will help governments understand the impact of invasive alien species and the challenges they pose, so that countries can adopt policies that effectively address these challenges.

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest

Ana Carbonell - IPBES

Ana Carbonell Quetglas

Senior Scientist at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography, IEO-CSIC

Science Media Centre Spain

The results of the IPBES report on the introduction of alien species into the marine environment and the description of the impacts arising from invasion processes are particularly relevant for the diagnosis of the state of the oceans. Especially in terms of the negative impacts they have. Although the information available for the last 15 years indicates that the rates of introduction of marine alien species have stabilised, with more constant rates being observed, the cumulative total number continues to increase and the main pathways of introduction are maritime transport in ballast water or as fouling on ship hulls and the artificial corridors connecting different oceans such as the Suez and Panama Canal. The stabilisation of introduction rates has probably been favoured by the implementation of ballast water regulations established under the International Maritime Organisation's International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water (Regulation A-4). However, the report warns of the influence of processes such as climate change or pollution caused by human activity to encourage the establishment of these species. The report highlights that attempts to eradicate or contain the introduction and spread of invasive species in the marine environment have failed and this should alert to the need to establish more effective management tools, together with the involvement of civil society in preventing introductions.

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest
Assessment Report on Invasive Alien Species and their Control. Summary for Policymakers
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