However, a number of recent articles in influential scientific journals have questioned the urgency of addressing the threat to biodiversity from invasive species, amid concerns that conservationists may not be making the necessary distinction between invasive species and alien species in their desire to maintain pristine ecosystems.
Alien species are introduced outside their natural range by humans, and are in many cases harmless. Invasive species on the other hand, are not only introduced outside their range, but also cause substantial harm to biodiversity and human livelihoods.
In certain cases, alien species may prove beneficial to human wellbeing. Examples include the honey bee, which has been introduced to North America, and various crops such as corn and potato which were introduced to Europe and have become staple dietary components for millions of people.
Invasive species, not alien species, are however a major cause of biodiversity loss, and are implicated in the majority of extinctions recorded to date.
To counter the concerns raised by some of the recent articles, a letter recently published in Science magazine aims to highlight the growing threat to biodiversity from invasive species, and addresses some of the dangerous misunderstandings of the issue.
The letter argues that the concerns raised over tackling the invasive species problem are unfounded, and that conservationists do recognise a clear distinction between alien species and invasive species.
The letter is signed by several leaders of well-established and respected conservation organizations, including IUCN’s Director General, Julia Marton-Lefèvre; the Chair of the Species Survival Commission (SSC), Simon Stuart; and the Chair of SSC’s Invasive Species Specialist Group, Piero Genovesi.
The authors highlight that threats from invasive species can be reduced, and that biodiversity can be protected through carefully targeted conservation interventions.
“Tackling invasive species also addresses the economic damage they cause and the serious threats that they pose to human health and livelihoods,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre.
“Attempts to remove the most harmful invasive species are proving to be increasingly successful, with more than 1,000 eradications completed worldwide to date.”
In speaking out and making clear the distinction between invasive and alien species, the authors of the letter have demonstrated their commitment to the fight against invasive species, and now call upon academics for support and, above all, action.
Read the IUCN press release – Top scientists rally together in fight against invasive species.
Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author