From pythons running riot in the Everglades to yellow crazy ants devouring everything in their path on Christmas Island, invasive species are a major cause of biodiversity loss around the globe, particularly in vulnerable island ecosystems.
In an effort to try to track and monitor these invasions, scientists have now created a global registry of invasive species. It is thought that the new catalog will take its place next to other internationally significant records, such as the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, to be used by conservationists and governments to protect wildlife and its environment.
Wherever people have gone, they have taken other species with them. Whether intentionally or not, we have spread thousands of animals, plants, and microorganisms far and wide. While most of the time they have a benign or neutral impact in their new home, some cause utter devastation. The new Global Register of Introduced and Invasive Species aims to track and monitor these changes.
“This is a milestone,” explained Piero Genovesi of the Invasive Species Special Group, which led the compilation of the registry, to The Guardian. “With this paper we want to show the rigour of our approach because this information will affect trade relations and other government policies.”
Islands are particularly at risk from invasive species because the native wildlife is often naïve and cannot protect itself from new predators. You only have to look at the introduction of the brown tree snake onto Guam, which has so far wiped out 10 out of 12 forest bird species, in turn causing the growth of new trees on the island to crash by 92 percent, showing the devastation that invasive species can cause.
But it's not just ecosystems that are being decimated by introduced species, they can also often have a significant impact on public health and the economy. Tropical mosquitoes that carry malaria have been found in Europe, for example, while the water hyacinth that is usually native to South America is choking rivers in Africa, preventing ships from moving and destroying the fishing industry.
The list, which has been published in Scientific Data, has taken over eight years to compile and involved the collaboration of hundreds of scientists who all contributed their knowledge and understanding. It currently covers just 20 countries and shows how of the 6,400 invasive species identified so far, at least a quarter are having a negative impact on the environment and native biodiversity. The data on the remaining 180 countries are expected to be released later this year.
It is expected that the new list will be as significant as the Red List, allowing agencies, governments, and conservation groups to stay one step ahead of a potentially new invasive species, while at the same time highlighting those that need the most attention.