Czech botanist leads call for European action against invasive species

Giant hogweed, photo: GerardM, Creative Commons 3.0

Giant hogweed, the grey squirrel and Argentine Ant have one thing in common: they are all invasive species which have been introduced deliberately or by chance into Europe and are now creating havoc with the local environment. A leading Czech botanist is now in the forefront of the first calls of their kind for Europe-wide action to fight the ever more rapid spread of invasive species, blamed on climate change and increasing long distance travel and transport.

The deputy director of the Czech Institute of Botany Petr Pyšek is one of four global experts who co-authored a piece in last week’s edition of the prestigious journal Science. The article sounds the alarm about the spread of invasive species in Europe and calls for action. Mr Pyšek says the spread of non-native species within Europe and from outside has surged in recent years:

“The numbers are really a warning. We have about 11,000 alien species in Europe. What is even more important is that the rate of increase of these species into Europe is increasing. The rate of introduction actually multiplies compared to what we had several decades ago. And the problem is that these species have a very serious impact on the environment and an impact on the economy. Unfortunately, measures taken are to a large extent ineffective.”

Studies have put the European cost of trying to prevent damage - to agricultural land, fisheries and forests - at around 10 billion euros a year. Many of these invaders have no natural predators in their host environment; this allows them to spread like wildfire at the expense of native plants, insects and animals.

Giant hogweed,  photo: GerardM,  Creative Commons 3.0
Mr Pyšek and fellow specialists say this sum is just a fraction of the real cost of the problem. They say experts are largely working in the dark with no real idea of the impact of around 90 percent of the outsiders. The specialists warn that cash and expertise are currently being frittered away at a European level by the absence of a single body to pinpoint where the main threats are coming from and coordinate a response.

“We feel that maybe the money could be used to establish such an agency which would coordinate the research on invasive species and provide scientific advice. It would deal with surveillance and early warning, risk assessment and things like that. The main advantage is that this would be coordinated in one centre.”

Mr Pyšek says it is too early to say whether the joint call for urgent action will be heeded even though species invasion shows every sign of intensifying.