Europe’s towns and cities are particularly vulnerable to the threats posed by invasive alien species, and experts say that action needs to be taken to control them.
Invasive alien species are plants or animals that are not native to an area and which therefore lack natural predators, meaning they are able to spread rapidly.
Urban areas are at high risk from invasive species because of their large number of transport links, with many non-native animals and plants arriving accidentally at ports and airports. Some species also arrive through the plant and pet trades.
Threats to native wildlife
Invasive alien species can pose a significant threat to native wildlife, often through competition or predation.
According to Chantal van Ham, European Programme Officer for IUCN, “These non-indigenous species represent one of the main threats to the world’s biodiversity. This threat is set to increase unless meaningful action is taken to control their introduction and establishment.”
Non-native species can also cause problems for humans living in urban areas. For example, common ragweed, which is native to North America, is spreading rapidly across Europe and can cause hay fever and asthma-like symptoms. Other plants, such as Japanese knotweed, can cause structural damage to buildings.
IUCN has recently released a publication entitled Invasive Alien Species: The Urban Dimension, which lists case studies from more than 15 European countries which show action being taken on invasive species in urban areas.
To address the issues posed by invasive alien species in Europe, IUCN is also hosting a conference today in Gland, Switzerland. The aim of the conference is to bring together local authorities, scientists, NGOs and policymakers to analyse the problem of invasive species in urban areas, and to discuss potential solutions.
Chantal van Ham said that local authorities have a key role to play in taking action to reduce the risk of invasive species becoming established. However, she added that it will be important for local authorities to have the support they need to do this.
Next week, the European Commission is expected to publish its plans on tackling invasive species across Europe and to announce a legal framework which will require action to be taken on the issue in all EU member states. It will also look at the control methods which are available and the ways in which established invasive species populations can be managed.
Read more on this story at BBC News – Invasive alien species threaten urban environments and IUCN – Invasive alien species: the urban dimension.
Do you teach 11-14 year olds? Take a look at the invasive species teaching resource on ARKive’s education pages!
Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author