Written by Dr Urs Schaffner, head of the Ecosystem Management section at CABI Europe-Switzerland.
Over the last few years, biological invasions have become a regular topic in the news. Today the general public is probably better informed about the negative environmental and economic impacts alien invasive species can cause than ever before. However, concern about invasive species and the search for methods to sustainably manage them has a much longer history, dating back to the 19th century.
The European Earwig, Forficula auricularia (order Dermaptera) was recently introduced to the Falkland Islands and has since become locally common in Port Stanley and a number of settlements in both East and West Falkland. Since its introduction this invasive species has caused considerable problems ranging from yield losses in horticulture to health and safety issues (eg. hiding behind rubber seals in oxygen masks or in asthma inhalers) and threats to the indigenous ecosystems. There are now worrying observations of earwigs away from settlements indicating a considerable threat to the composition of native invertebrate communities. The exact date when earwigs were first introduced is unknown but early records stem from as far back as 1997. Earwigs have become a real nuisance pest since the mid-2000s. Continue reading →
Invasive alien species are a major threat worldwide, impacting upon millions of livelihoods and threatening biodiversity. The situation is worsening, due in no small part to increased global trade and transport. The economic costs of IAS can be vast: worldwide, invasive species are estimated to cost US$1.4 trillion per year – close to 5% of global GDP.
In response to this threat, the European Union adopted Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014 which makes compulsory the management of key IAS that are of concern to the region. Methods include limitation of spread, eradication of early invasions and active management of established IAS. A list of 37 species to be included under the regulation was approved by EU Member States in December 2015 and has recently come into force (Regulation (EU) 2016/1141). It includes 23 animals and 14 plants whose current and potential impacts across the region will mean that collaborative and concerted action is required across the EU.
This is part of the EU’s biodiversity strategy which aims to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU by 2020 and is in line with the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Aichi Targets, particularly Target 9:
“By 2020, invasive alien species and pathways are identified and prioritized, priority species are controlled or eradicated, and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment.”
At CABI, we have been working on invasive species at a global scale for decades and are experts in their management using both traditional methods and through biological control. This new legislation is welcome; recognising the serious threats that invasive species pose and imposing compulsory measures to lessen the spread and impacts of IAS in the EU.
Introduced to Britain in the 1980s through the aquatic trade Hydrocotyle ranunculoides, commonly known as floating pennywort, is rapidly spreading through Europe and particularly in the UK, Belgium, Germany, Italy, France and the Netherlands. Originating in Central and South America, this stoloniferous perennial plant is forming dense, impenetrable mats which rapidly dominate water bodies, outcompeting and displacing native species and compromising flood defences, navigation and leisure activities. Despite its relatively recent introduction, establishment and spread have been exponential thanks largely to its extremely fast growth rate (up to 20cm per day) and its ability to re-generate from small fragments. In 2010, floating pennywort was added to section 14, schedule 9 of the UK’s Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. A recent report estimates its cost to Great Britain’s economy as £25.5 million each year through management, disposal, flooding and indirect costs to boating and angling. News that from 2014 the sale of this plant will be banned is significant and welcomed.
Some of the species that are included in our open-access Invasive Species Compendium are well known to the general public, for example Japanese Knotweed. Others are more obscure, and I had never heard of the Asian Hornet, Vespa velutina, until I edited the datasheet about it earlier this year. I was therefore interested to hear an item about it a few days ago on the Today programme, one of the best-known programmes on BBC radio (you can listen to the item here).
The species originates from eastern Asia and was accidentally introduced to southern France about 10 years ago in a consignment of terracotta pots from China. It spread rapidly through France, soon reaching the stage where eradication was impossible, and into neighbouring countries. As it is a predator of honey bees, it is of serious concern to the beekeeping industry (where it is native, bees have some ability to kill hornets by surrounding them with a ball of bees and heating them to death, but European bees are much less effective at this). It can sting people badly too, although European populations are generally not very aggressive.
It is considered very likely that V. velutina will spread to the UK, either through accidental transport by humans or by flying across the English Channel (see here for a risk assessment). Eradication will only be possible if it is spotted promptly, and long-term management will also require knowledge of where it is present, so the public (especially beekeepers) are being asked by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to look out for it and report any sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org. This request has been picked up by several parts of the UK media, including the Independent, the Daily Mail and even the local newspaper here in south Oxfordshire.
An information sheet describing how to recognise the species is available here; August and September are the peak months for V. velutina activity, so if you live in the southern part of the UK, or indeed anywhere else in western Europe, please look out for it!