Invasive species are rapidly becoming a global menace, wreaking havoc on forests, devastating crop yields, and driving countless species to extinction, according to an imminent report backed by the United Nations. From the water hyacinths suffocating Lake Victoria in East Africa to the introduction of rats and brown snakes that have led to the decimation of bird species in the Pacific, and the spread of mosquitoes carrying diseases such as Zika and yellow fever, tens of thousands of foreign species have established themselves in new territories far from their places of origin.
The United Nations Convention on Biodiversity’s science advisory panel, known as IPBES, is gearing up to release the most extensive evaluation of these so-called "alien species" ever conducted. The blame for these non-native species finding homes on the other side of the globe rests squarely on human shoulders, whether their arrival was accidental or intentional. This rampant spread of invasive species is seen by scientists as undeniable proof that the rapid expansion of human activity has so drastically shifted natural systems that we have propelled the Earth into a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, or the "era of humans".
Invasive Species: A Global Threat to Biodiversity
The looming threat of invasive species that devastate forests, decimate crops, and lead to species extinctions is escalating worldwide, according to an impending report from a landmark United Nations (UN) backed assessment.
Unwanted Aliens on Earth
From the water hyacinth suffocating Lake Victoria in East Africa, to rats and brown snakes eradicating bird species in the Pacific, and mosquitoes spreading diseases like Zika and yellow fever in new regions, tens of thousands of alien species have established themselves in unfamiliar territories. These non-native species often find themselves on the other side of the world due to human actions, either accidentally or intentionally.
The science advisory panel for the UN Convention on Biodiversity, known as IPBES, will release on Monday the most comprehensive assessment of these "alien species" ever compiled. Scientists cite the pervasive spread of these species as concrete evidence of the radical alteration of natural systems due to human activities, leading to a new geological epoch termed the Anthropocene, or the "era of humans".
Deliberate and Accidental Invasion
Some invasive species are inadvertent arrivals, hidden in the ballast water of cargo ships, stowed away in containers, or smuggled in tourist’s suitcases. Others, however, are introduced consciously. For instance, the hyacinth, which once blanketed 90 percent of Lake Victoria, disrupting transport, fishing, and aquatic life, is believed to have been introduced by Belgian colonial officials in Rwanda initially as a decorative garden flower.
In Florida, the Everglades wetlands preserve is overrun with the destructive descendants of former pets and house plants, ranging from gigantic Burmese pythons and walking catfish to Old World climbing fern and Brazilian pepper.
The Dire Consequences
Invasive species, along with habitat loss, global warming, pollution, and direct exploitation, are a significant cause of extinctions. Small islands with unique endemic species are particularly at risk. Rats, snakes, and mosquitoes carried by Western explorers or tourists have eradicated dozens of bird species in the last two centuries.
In the Hawaiian town of Lahaina, a devastating fire was fuelled in part by imported grasses used as livestock feed, which have spread across abandoned sugar plantations.
A Global Response Needed
A global treaty to protect biodiversity, agreed in Montreal last December, sets a target to halve the spread of invasive alien species from current rates. The impending report from the IPBES underscores the urgent need for global action to address this threat to our planet’s biodiversity.
In conclusion, the report highlights the significant impact of human activity on the spread of invasive species, pushing us into a new geological era. The need for deliberate and concerted efforts to counter this trend cannot be overstated. The Montreal treaty is a step in the right direction, but the task at hand requires a global response to ensure the preservation of our planet’s biodiversity.