HomeIdeaInvasive alien species, an overlooked threat. IPBES report

Invasive alien species, an overlooked threat. IPBES report

The recent report by IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services) – approved in September 2023 by its representatives in 143 countries – analyzes the impact of invasive alien species on the environment, economy and human health. (1)

The 'invasive alien species' (IAS) – together with changes in land and sea use,
direct exploitation of species, climate change and pollution – is one of the five main causes of loss of biodiversity worldwide.

However, European politics, in this legislature now in its twilight, has overlooked this serious threat. Although it continues to manifest itself, with serious damage to agriculture, livestock and fishing. An in-depth look.

1) Invasive alien species, concept and data

Invasive alien species, or allochthonous, are organisms that are found outside their area of ​​origin due to human intervention (voluntary or accidental), which establish themselves and spread in different areas where they threaten biodiversity and the ecosystem services connected to it . (CBD 2018; IUCN 2022. See notes 2,3). The IPBES report under review – developed by a multidisciplinary team of 86 experts with contributions from numerous other contributing authors, through in-depth analysis of over 13.000 documents

– identifies IAS as a global threat. The latest data, in summary:

– about 200 new alien species are introduced every year;

– 37.000 alien species have so far been introduced worldwide due to human activities;

-of these, approximately 3.500 alien species are classified as invasive;

– invasive alien species cause 60% of total or partial extinctions of plant and animal species. Having already caused 1.215 local extinctions of native species;

– the annual costs of such losses, which have quadrupled every decade since 1970, are now estimated at approximately US$423 billion.

2) Biology of invasions

The biology of invasions is a scientific field that explores the transport, introduction and spread of alien species caused by human action. This discipline provides the basis for analyzing risks and planning the prevention, management and control activities necessary to preserve native ecosystems.

The introduction of alien species can be caused by naval or air transport of the organisms themselves, or of goods where they are also present due to accidental contamination, or other vectors. (4)

The invasion concerns less than 10% of alien species, since most of them do not survive transport and the majority of those that resist it do not stabilize, due to an inability to adapt to new environmental conditions. Some organisms then remain confined in controlled environments (4,5).

2.1) Invasion process

The invasion process is influenced by various factors which include the history of introduction of the new species, its intrinsic invasiveness, the susceptibility of the environment to being invaded. The most resilient species – with characteristics of resistance to parasites and diseases, adaptability to different environmental conditions, fast growth and high reproductive potential – are more likely to become invasive.

The most vulnerable environments invasions include islands, inland waters, fragmented habitats near large urban centers and areas of heavy commercial traffic. These environments are particularly susceptible due to their degree of disturbance, the absence of natural predators for alien species and the presence of empty spaces that can be easily colonized.

3) Impacts

The significant impacts of invasive alien species are recorded by IPBES on ecology and ecosystem services, economy and human health.

Extent of problems caused by invasive alien species
Fig. 1. IPBES. Extent of problems caused by invasive alien species (1)

3.1) Native ecosystems

From an ecological point of view, invasive alien species (IAS) are the second cause of biodiversity loss after the destruction of natural habitats. Various mechanisms (i.e. competition, predation, hybridization and disease transmission) cause the extinction of native species and the reduction of local diversity.

The IAS (invasive alien species) often become dominant species, especially in the absence of natural predators. Invasive alien species therefore first of all modify the structure of animal and plant communities. In addition to influencing ecosystem services, through alterations in the physicochemical properties and structure of the invaded habitats.

3.2) Economy and health

From an economic point of view, invasive alien species cause significant damage to production activities and infrastructure, with high management and control costs. IAS have a profound and negative impact on the economy, agri-food production and food security, food and water safety, human health and cultural identity.

The threat of 'invasive alien species' on agri-food systems is expressed in the prevalence of negative impacts (75%) on the terrestrial kingdom, especially on forests and cultivated areas in temperate and boreal latitudes. Followed by fresh waters (14%) and seas (10%).

Human health is in turn threatened by bacteria and viruses of which invasive alien species are vectors (i.e. yellow fever and dengue, transmitted by invasive mosquitoes such as Aedes aegypti e Aedes albopictus). IAS can therefore spread diseases, as well as cause allergies and intoxications, depending on the circumstances.

4) Management of invasive alien species

The IPBES report highlights that biological invasions of invasive alien species and their adverse impacts can be prevented and mitigated by applying effective strategies. Based on risk assessment protocols which serve both to predict the invasiveness of species not yet introduced and to establish a scale of priorities for the management of species already present. The management strategy is divided into three main phases:

- prevention. We need effective regulations, surveillance systems at entry points (e.g. ports and airports), codes of conduct and public awareness. This phase is crucial to avoid new introductions and reduce the number of arriving invasive species;

- rapid identification and eradication. When prevention fails, constant monitoring and an immediate response are needed to eliminate newly detected invasive alien species before they spread. The goal is the complete removal of all individuals of a species from a specific area;

- mitigation. When the species are already widespread, the aim is eradication, where possible, or permanent control. Eradication is the most effective option, but often limited to specific contexts such as islands or limited areas. Permanent control involves partial removal of individuals to contain impacts.

5) Biodiversity and invasive species, monitoring

EPPO (European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization) – in addition to managing a database with over 95.000 species of interest for agriculture, forestry and the protection of plants (cultivated and wild) and parasites (including pathogens and invasive exotic plants) – coordinates the monitoring of alien species through the Alert list. (6)

IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) in turn updates both its 'red list' of threatened species at a global level, as well as information on the impacts of 'invasive alien species' (IAS) and an analysis of how they contribute to the risk of species extinction. (7)

6) Invasive alien species, some examples in the Old Continent

Among numerous examples of the negative impacts of IAS (Invasive Alien Species) in the Old Continent, four are mentioned:

- Varroa destructor, which spread from Korea and Japan to Europe in the 70s and preferred to significantly invade the larvae of worker bees and drones of theApis mellifera European and American, achieved in 1987, rather than those of African bees andApis cerana Asian, (8)

- Xylella fastidiosa. The European, national and regional institutions responded with late, drastic and disproportionate measures (9,10), ordering the felling of thousands of centuries-old and thousand-year-old olive trees in Southern Italy (Puglia) which were only partially censured by the administrative justice, (11) with enormous damage to agriculture and rural landscapes;

- West Nile viruses (WNV). EFSA and ECDC, in the annual report on zoonoses occurring in the European Union in 2022, reports 1.133 cases of infection (+638,8% compared to 2021), with epidemic outbreaks in Greece and Italy. The WNV virus, transmitted by mosquitoes (Culex), was isolated for the first time in Uganda, in 1937; (12)

- Callinectes sapidus. The Atlantic blue crab, native to Nova Scotia (Argentina), has been recorded since 1949 in the Mediterranean Sea where it has progressively spread on the coasts of the North, from Spain to Turkey, and the South (from Morocco to Egypt). With dramatic impact on fishing activities in Italy in recent years. (13)

7) Invasive Alien Species, EU rules

Invasive Alien Species Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014 establishes a list of potentially invasive alien species of importance for the European Union and imposes restrictions on their introduction and spread. (14)

The 'Union list' updated on 12 July 2022 it includes 88 invasive alien species, strictly regulated, as well as 47 animal species and 41 plant species of 'concern' for the European Union. (15)

Member States they are required to monitor the presence of these species, adopt eradication or control measures and restore damaged ecosystems (16,17).

8) IAS, EU Biodiversity strategy 2030, Nature Restoration Law

The comunication 'EU Biodiversity EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, bringing nature back into our lives' – adopted by the Von der Leyen Commission on 20 May 2020, the same day as the 'Farm to Fork' proclamation (18,19) – had also paid attention to IAS (Invasive Alien Species).

EU Nature Restoration Plan in fact, it indicated the commitment to implement a concrete change that goes beyond the mandate of the European Commission now expiring. With a series of 'good intentions', to be achieved 'by 2030', which included reducing the number of species under threat (-50%) indicated in the red list of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC. (20)

The rules which should have implemented the 'good intentions' mentioned above, Nature Restoration Law, however, was the subject of a 'reductive agreement' between the European Parliament and the Council, which reduced to a minimum both the objectives of restoring protected areas and agricultural land, as well as the responsibilities of the Member States and the monitoring criteria. (21)

9) Provisional conclusions

The IPBES report offers an exhaustive analysis of the current scenario on invasive alien species and the resulting serious threats to the environment, agri-food systems and human health. Knowing these risks and not taking every possible measure to prevent and mitigate them is a form of viral masochism.

The MEPs outgoing - on the leash of the large agricultural confederations (i.e. Copa-Cogeca, Farm Europe, Coldiretti) - have however managed to demolish any proposal to restore ecosystems which are already in serious conditions of degradation. To the point of trampling on the Habitats Directive, as we have seen. (22) #Enough!

To prevent is the high road, and vulnerability to invasive alien species is largely linked to the health conditions of local ecosystems. Politicians worthy of this name must assume the responsibility of adopting the indispensable measures, starting with SUR (Sustainable Use and Reduction of Pesticides). (23)

Dario Dongo 


(1) IPBES Invasive Alien Species Assessment. https://www.ipbes.net/IASmediarelease#

(2) Convention on Biological Diversity (2018). Decision 14/11. Invasive alien species. UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) https://www.cbd.int/doc/decisions/cop-14/cop-14-dec-11-en.pdf

(3) IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. https://www.iucn.org/resources/conservation-tool/iucn-red-list-threatened-species

(4) Elena Tricarico, Alberto Inghilesi, Giuseppe Brundu, Gianluca Iiriti, Maria Loi, Alessandra Caddeo, Lucilla Carnevali, Piero Genovesi, Luciana Carotenuto, Andrea Monaco (2018). Invasive alien species: What and how to communicate to the general public. ISBN: 978-88-943544-0-9 http://tinyurl.com/3fvjbd7d

(5) Mark Herbert Williamson. Biological invasions. Chapman & Hall (London, 1996). ISBN: 0412591901 (pbk)

(6) EPPO (2023). EPPO Global Database (available online). https://gd.eppo.int

(7) IUCN Red List https://www.iucnredlist.org

(8) Wenfeng Li, Yi Zhang, Hui Peng, Ruonan Zhang, Zhengwei Wang, Zachary Y. Huang, Yan Ping Chen, Richou Han (2022). The cell invasion preference of Varroa destructor between the original and new honey bee hosts. International Journal for Parasitology. Volume 52, Issues 2–3,
Pages 125-134, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpara.2021.08.001

(9) Dario Dongo, Marina De Nobili, Guido Cortese. Xylella Fastidiosa, the solution at your fingertips. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(10) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Biostimulants in olive growing, organic revolution. Scientific review. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(11) Giuseppe Francesco Sportelli. Xylella, Tar Puglia: “Do not uproot infected olive trees”. Edagricole.
12.5.22 http://tinyurl.com/yc5nacxk

(12) See paragraph 6 of the previous article Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. Trends in zoonoses in the EU, One Health 2022 report. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(13) Marchessaux G, Gjoni V, Sara G (2023) Environmental drivers of size-based population structure, sexual maturity and fecundity: A study of the invasive blue crab Callinectes sapidus (Rathbun, 1896) in the Mediterranean Sea. PLoS ONE 18 (8): e0289611. doi:10.1371 / journal.pone.0289611

(14) European Commission, DG Environment. Invasive alien species, overview http://tinyurl.com/4f8dx6uf

(15) Commission implementing Regulation (EU) 2016/1141. Latest consolidated text 12 July 2022
of 13 July 2016 http://tinyurl.com/3uh5dnxu

(16) In Italy, legislative decree 230/2017 (http://tinyurl.com/yck5t5sy) adapts national legislation to the IAS Regulation, through the designation of the competent authorities and the definition of procedures for the prevention, control and eradication of invasive alien species

(17) The National Biodiversity Network: collecting and sharing data for biodiversity conservation. Environment and beyond. 3.1.24 http://tinyurl.com/4kzzuvyw

(18) Dario Dongo, Giulia Torre. Special - EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, the plan announced in Brussels. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(19) Dario Dongo, Marina De Nobili. Special Farm to Fork, the strategy presented in Brussels. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(20) European Commission, DG Environment. The Habitats Directive, overview http://tinyurl.com/3vaf52j8

(21) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei. 'Nature Restoration Law', green light with downward agreement. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(22) See paragraph 4 of the previous article by Dario Dongo. Food security, thesis and antithesis of the European Parliament. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(23) Marta Strinati. Go ahead with the SUR regulation for the reduction of pesticides. Letter to the European Commission. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

Related Articles

Latest Articles

Recent Commenti

Translate »