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Scientists issue sobering warning about the invasive species wreaking havoc on our communities: 'An extremely costly mistake'

The report warned of "multibillion-dollar losses and extinctions."

The report warned of “multibillion-dollar losses and extinctions."

Photo Credit: iStock

A new report showed how thousands of invasive species are decimating ecosystems across the globe — with dire consequences for the environment, human health, and our food and water supplies.

The data, compiled by an international conglomerate of scientists, revealed the distressing problem and potential solutions we could take to combat it. 

What's happening?

After more than four years of compiling research, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released a comprehensive report compiled by 86 experts from 49 countries. Their write-up details the sobering extent of costs and damages caused by invasive species worldwide. 

The report warned of "multibillion-dollar losses and extinctions" with economic costs exceeding $400 billion a year, according to El Paîs

Invasive species are introduced by humans through travel and trade, intentionally or unintentionally hitching a ride as people and goods move around the globe. Some species were introduced as pets or ill-fated attempts at biocontrol that quickly grew out of hand.

Of the estimated 37,000 established non-native species, 3,500 are considered harmful and invasive. The water hyacinth — a South American plant that grows rapidly and clogs up waterways — tops the list of plant and animal species wreaking havoc on every continent. 

Why is the report concerning?

Invasive species are a major cause of biodiversity loss, an issue that threatens the planet's ability to sustain life. Robust biodiversity is essential to maintaining our ability to produce enough food to feed the growing population, and invasive species are one of the five key drivers diminishing global biodiversity.

Invasive species outcompete native plants and animals for resources like food or water and lack natural predators or parasites that would keep the population in check. 

The water hyacinth, for example, blocks plants growing beneath it from receiving vital sunlight. Those plants then decay, using up oxygen in the water and killing fish.

Biological invasion by plants and animals can also harm human health by spreading disease, decreasing food and water security, and interfering with people's livelihoods and economic development. 

What is being done?

While they do suggest potential solutions, the authors are adamant that current measures are insufficient to tackle this issue. The Washington Post noted, based on the report, that "only about a sixth of the world's nations [have] laws or regulations on the books addressing invasive plants and animals," and Science reported that nearly half of all countries do not invest in managing invasive species.

"It would be an extremely costly mistake to regard biological invasions only as someone else's problem," Anibal Pauchard, one of the report's authors, said in a statement. 

Prevention is the most efficient and cost-effective option, but eradication, containment, and control methods have seen success.

To address invasive species, the authors of the report advised governments and organizations to streamline policies, increase public awareness and engagement through citizen science initiatives, and share important information to help fill knowledge gaps. 

Meanwhile, we can do our part by advocating for policies and programs that protect biodiversity, learning about invasive species, and paying close attention when choosing new plants for our yards. 

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