Wildlife & Biodiversity

Invasive alien species lead to extinctions of plants & animals across Earth, IPBES report points out

Though it is possible to eradicate and control these species, it might not happen by 2030  

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Monday 04 September 2023
Photo: @IISD_ENB : Anastasia Rodopoulou / Twitter

Delegates at the 10th plenary of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) finalised their report on the status of invasive alien species (IAS) and ways to control them on September 2, 2023, after six days of intense deliberation. The report was released on September 4.

Alien species are animals, plants and microbes that have been introduced by humans to new regions. Of these, invasive alien species have negative impacts on nature.

For example, around 85 per cent of documented impacts negatively affect people’s quality of life. Diseases such as malaria, Zika and West Nile Fever are spread by invasive alien mosquito species like Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegyptii.

Similarly, spread of water hyacinth (Pontederia crassipes) in Lake Victoria has affected the population of tilapia fish and affected livelihoods and nutrition of  people in the area.

The Assessment Report on Invasive Alien Species and their Control quantifies that of the more than 37,000 alien species identified across the world, around 3,500 are invasive. Of the 37,000, six per cent of the plants, 22 per cent of the invertebrates, 14 per cent of the vertebrates and 11 per cent of microbes are invasive.

Invasive alien species are a key driver of biodiversity loss and under Target 6 of the ambitious Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (KMGBF), the world has to prevent and reduce the rate of introduction and establishment of invasive alien species by at least 50 per cent by 2030.

Other than this goal of KMGBF, controlling IAS would also help meet Sustainable Development Goals that the world has to meet by 2030.

But the world might probably not  meet the target by 2030.

Melodie A McGeoch, a member of the IPBES team, in response to a question by Down To Earth (DTE) during the launch of the report, said while the world might not meet the target, there have been elements of progress since 2010 and pre-2010 when the targets were first considered.

“We are confident that we would put in place measures and adopt approaches such as integrated governance of IAS that we have found to bring about significant progress,” she said.

The IPBES report found that the measures are not sufficient as of now. While 80 per cent of countries have targets related to managing invasive alien species in their national biodiversity plans, only 17 per cent have national laws or regulations specifically addressing these issues. This also increases the risk of invasive alien species for neighbouring states.

The report also shows that 45 per cent of all countries do not invest in the management of biological invasions. At present 34 per cent of the impacts of biological invasions are in the Americas, 31 per cent in Europe and Central Asia, 25 per cent in Asia and the Pacific and only about 7 per cent in Africa.

Now, this assessment can be used to inform governments currently working towards updating the  national biodiversity strategies and action plans (NBSAPs) mandated under KMGBF.

“The immediate urgency of invasive alien species, with extensive and growing harm to nature and people, makes this report so valuable and timely,” said Anne Larigauderie, the Executive Secretary of IPBES.

The urgency to fight IAS is understandable as they are behind plant and animal extinctions across the earth. “Invasive alien species have been a major factor in 60 per cent and the only driver in 16 per cent of global animal and plant extinctions that we have recorded, and at least 218 invasive alien species have been responsible for more than 1,200 local extinctions,” said co-chair of the Assessment, Anibal Pauchard from Chile.

As many as 200 new IAS are reported each year and awareness can help identify and control them quickly.

IAS led to a loss of more than $423 billion in 2019 and the report points out that they are among the five top drivers of biodiversity loss along with changes in land-and sea-use, direct exploitation of species, climate change and pollution.

The report was commissioned in 2019 to find solutions. The experts looked at the research on the subject over the last four years and say that future biological invasions, invasive alien species, and their impacts, can be prevented through effective management — preparedness, early detection and rapid response. The reports suggest that when eradication is not possible, efforts should be made to contain and control the IAS.

“What is needed is a context-specific integrated approach, across and within countries and the various sectors involved in providing biosecurity, including trade and transportation; human and plant health; economic development and more. This will have far-reaching benefits for nature and people,” said Peter Stoett, co-chair from Canada. 

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