The staggering cost of biological invasion

Invasive species have cost the planet US$1.28 trillion over the past 50 years, according to a new analysis published in the journal Nature. The team of authors warn these costs will continue to soar unless prevention and control is improved.

The research reveals that biological invasion has hindered crop yields, damaged national infrastructure, and imperilled human health. But despite billions of taxpayer dollars diverted annually to fight the problem, the damage is not a major policy talking point.

“Despite their devastating ecological impacts – they are the second cause of species extinction – the public and decision makers remain largely unaware of the threats of biological invasions. With this study, we hoped that the realization of the significant economic costs they also cause would raise awareness,” says Franck Courchamp, the project’s Director.

A biological invasion occurs when an animal or plant species is introduced – on purpose or by accident – to an ecosystem where it does not belong. Common examples of the destruction caused by invasive species include the devastating impact of the grey squirrel on the red squirrel population in Britain, and the poisoning of native fauna in Australia by the invasive cane toad.

According to Christophe Diagne, first author on the paper, the upwards trend in invasive species damage can be explained by a combination of factors: “The ongoing intensification of global trade and transport creates many more opportunities for invasions; the growing ‘land take’ of the planet surface, for example, expansion of agriculture and infrastructure, makes our societies sensitive to impacts from these invasions.”

The research highlights the importance of ramping up commitments to fight invasive species. This requires heightened financial commitments and better-coordinated international policy, among other things.

“The global costs of invasive alien species are so massive that we spent months verifying our models and this overall estimate, to insure we were not exaggerating” explains Diagne. “As it turns out, our very conservative approach is in fact a massive underestimation of the actual economic costs”.

The analysis was run by an international team of interdisciplinary experts from Université Paris-Saclay, the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle of Pris, Université de Montpellier, University of South Bohemia and Flinders University.

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