CABI welcomes EU action against invasive species

Water fern (Azolla filiculoides) covering a UK pond. Corin Pratt, CABI

Water fern (Azolla filiculoides) covering a UK pond. Corin Pratt, CABI

CABI welcomes action that the EU has recently taken (September 9, 2013) to protect member states against the adverse impacts of Invasive Alien Species (IAS).  The draft Regulation on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of IAS will help to coordinate management and preventative measures across the whole of the EU, leading to what will effectively be a joint battle against IAS – a problem that costs the EU at least 12 billion Euros each year.

CABI’s initial views on four key areas are summarised below:

A list of invasive alien species of Union concern

Identifying invasive species of European concern is at the core of this Regulation and we are pleased to see that lists of these species will be compiled based on scientific evidence.  However, impact evidence, in the form of scientifically replicated studies, is currently lacking for many IAS across the EU. The lack of such data will inevitably have an impact on the strength of risk assessments for individual species.

Inclusion of chapter IV – Management of IAS that are widely spread

CABI is pleased to see that the draft Regulation highlights the valuable work that has been and continues to be conducted throughout EU member states, and welcomes the consultations to the draft Regulation, including all the steps needed to implement it. The inclusion of chapter IV – Management of IAS that are widely spread – is particularly welcomed, as these species are often overlooked due to the networks, resources and time needed to address them on an EU-wide scale.

Inclusion of all management methods, including biocontrol

CABI also welcomes the inclusion of all management methods into the Regulation (physical, chemical and biological actions), as the control and management of some of the more widespread EU weed species can only realistically be achieved using integrated pest management options, in particular classical biological control. Biological control also plays play an important role in protecting aquatic and riparian habitats, and so helps meet requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive as chemical and mechanical control options are often impractical or prohibitively expensive or taboo in such cases.

Inclusion of habitat restoration post control

It is encouraging  to see the inclusion of habitat restoration post control, though it will be difficult to implement from a practical point of view due to cost and the highly disturbed nature of many of the habitats invaded by IAS.

Dr Dick Shaw, CABI’s Global Director of Invasive Species Management says:

“It’s great to see this initiative come so far and that Member States may soon have to do something about invasive species that can and do wreak havoc to biodiversity and their environments.  There will be a lot of horse trading to come but I believe the will is there to make a change in the face of such a major and cross-cutting threat.”

The advance of the Asian hornet creates a buzz in the UK media

Some of the species that are included in our open-access Invasive Species Compendium are well known to the general public, for example Japanese Knotweed. Others are more obscure, and I had never heard of the Asian Hornet, Vespa velutina, until I edited the datasheet about it earlier this year. I was therefore interested to hear an item about it a few days ago on the Today programme, one of the best-known programmes on BBC radio (you can listen to the item here).

Picture: ©Muséum de Toulouse/Didier Descouens-2013. CC BY-SA 3.0

The species originates from eastern Asia and was accidentally introduced to southern France about 10 years ago in a consignment of terracotta pots from China. It spread rapidly through France, soon reaching the stage where eradication was impossible, and into neighbouring countries. As it is a predator of honey bees, it is of serious concern to the beekeeping industry (where it is native, bees have some ability to kill hornets by surrounding them with a ball of bees and heating them to death, but European bees are much less effective at this). It can sting people badly too, although European populations are generally not very aggressive.

It is considered very likely that V. velutina will spread to the UK, either through accidental transport by humans or by flying across the English Channel (see here for a risk assessment). Eradication will only be possible if it is spotted promptly, and long-term management will also require knowledge of where it is present, so the public (especially beekeepers) are being asked by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to look out for it and report any sightings to alert_nonnative@ceh.ac.uk. This request has been picked up by several parts of the UK media, including the Independent, the Daily Mail and even the local newspaper here in south Oxfordshire.

An information sheet describing how to recognise the species is available here; August and September are the peak months for V. velutina activity, so if you live in the southern part of the UK, or indeed anywhere else in western Europe, please look out for it!

Mark Palmer
Content Editor
CABI

Use them and lose

Is promoting the utilisation of invasive non-native species for commercial or other uses e.g. as a feed for livestock, use as a fuel or to produce biogas, a help or a hindrance to their control?

A view from Arne Witt, CABI Regional Coordinator, Invasives (Africa & Asia):

Promoting the utilization of any invasive non-native species (INNS) has largely contributed to their spread, especially in most developing countries which don’t have the capacity to develop and implement effective integrated management strategies.  Utilization as a control can only be effective if it forms part of an integrated management plan – on its own it merely exacerbates the problem.  There are many examples of where INNS have been intentionally spread by individuals because they have been led to believe that they can enrich themselves by growing and then utilizing an INNS – at low densities many INNS are beneficial, but it does not stay that way for very long – short-term benefits but long-term costs.

One needs to remember that utilization works from “inside out” whereas “control or management” works from “outside-in”.  In other words, the most cost-effective way to utilize an INNS is at the largest and densest infestations. As such you would build your biogas plant or sawmill in an area where the costs with regard to transport are lowest. In addition, you would not “eradicate” any of the plants you utilize – it is expensive and time-consuming to do so and why would you want to anyway, you want a renewable resource, so getting the plants to coppice, so that you can use them again in the future, is exactly what you want.  This is largely what is happening in Africa – those utilizing prosopis for charcoal do not apply herbicide to the cut stumps or dig out the rootstock – they want the plants to coppice. The same happens in India with regard to the utilization of lantana – communities don’t kill the lantana, they allow it to coppice. In addition, it does not make economic sense to utilize plants growing individually or in small pockets away from these dense infestations, especially in developing countries where we have poor infrastructure.  For a control/management strategy to be effective we need to work from the “outside-in”, removing individual plants or small isolated stands first before moving onto the dense stands – utilization works in the opposite way which is why it is ineffective as a management strategy on its own.

African landscape dominated by prosopis

African landscape dominated by prosopis (Arne Witt, CABI)

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Getting swamped: Australian swamp stonecrop (Crassula helmsii) in the UK

In January this year, large parts of southern Australia were ablaze with fierce bush fires, while most of the UK was covered in snow. Half a world away from each other, and at one point nearly 40ºC apart, there aren’t too many similarities to be drawn between the two locations. And yet, there is a water weed, Crassula helmsii, that survives happily in both extremes – and in the UK, where it has been introduced, this adaptability is proving extremely problematic.

 Crassula helmsii, also known as Australian swamp stonecrop or New Zealand pygmyweed, is a small semi-aquatic plant in the Crassulaceae family. As its common name implies, this low-growing succulent originates from the antipodes, but was introduced to Britain from Tasmania almost 100 years ago. Initially sold by garden and aquatic centres as an oxygenating plant, by the 1950s it had established in the wild, and from there it has spread to numerous ponds, lakes and waterways throughout the UK.

A mat of Crassula helmsii in flower

A mat of Crassula helmsii in flower

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Invasive species catch a wave

Over two years have now passed since the Tohoku earthquake rent the seafloor 40 miles off the coast of Japan. The 9.03 magnitude quake – the largest in Japan’s history – triggered a staggeringly destructive tsunami which cost the lives of over 15,000 people.

Aside from the human tragedy of the disaster, the tsunami has had another, quite unexpected, effect: the transport of invasive species across the globe.  Plants and animals from the north-west Pacific are now washing up over 8000 miles away on North American beaches, sparking fears that a wave of ecological invasions could be threatening coastal environments the length of the continent.

How have these organisms managed to travel so far? Such was the force of the tsunami as it tore into docks, boats and buildings on the Japanese coast that an estimated 1.5 million tons of debris was washed out to sea. This was not just the usual plastic waste that pollutes the Pacific Ocean; individual blocks of steel and concrete weighing over 100 tons have been sighted drifting off the coast of Hawaii and North America. Flotsam this large provides a substrate for sedentary coastal life and can shield species from the worst of oceanic conditions. Individual species regularly make similar transits attached to the hulls of boats.

However, what has surprised ecologists in this instance is the number of species that are washing up after 15 months adrift. Whilst whole communities are not turning up on American shores – larger and more mobile animals in particular have long since been washed away – species are certainly arriving en masse in North America. For example, a pier from Misawa port in Japan was harbouring over 100 species when it beached in Oregon in June 2012.

A 66' long concrete dock in Oregon USA, debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan

A pier from Misawa port, covered in non-native kelp, that washed up in Oregon in June 2012.
Source: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department

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Originally posted on The Plantwise Blog:

The whitefly Bemisia tabaci (USDA image PD USDA ARS via Wikimedia Commons)

The whitefly Bemisia tabaci (USDA image PD USDA ARS via Wikimedia Commons)

A species of whitefly that transmits cassava mosaic virus has been detected in South Africa for the first time. The whitefly, Bemisia tabaci is a cryptic species complex containing some important agricultural pests and virus vectors. The term ‘cryptic species complex’ means that Bemisia tabaci is considered to be a complex of at least 24 different species that look almost identical but are in fact genetically different.  Researchers from a range of organisations including the University of Johannesburg, the University of Witwatersrand and ARC-Vegetable and Ornamental Plant Institute conducted surveys to investigate the diversity and distribution of Bemisia tabaci species in 8 provinces in South Africa. The study aimed to update the information regarding the different Bemisia tabaci types present in the country.

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Rhododendron ponticum – much more than just an invasive weed!

Rhododendron ponticum, native to southern Europe and south west Asia was introduced into the UK in the 18th Century. Since then, this plant has grown uncontrollably and is now a common sight throughout western parts of the British Isles in areas such as Cornwall, Wales and parts of Scotland and Ireland. Despite producing an attractive flower in the spring, Rhododendron can have damaging effects on the local environment. By growing rapidly this plant outcompetes native flora, decreases biodiversity and furthermore constitutes a sporulating host for the two devastating pathogens Phytophthora ramorum and Phytophthora kernoviae, meaning these pathogens not only infect but also reproduce on R. ponticum.

Rhododenron ponticum

A stand of invasive Rhododendron ponticum in Windsor Great Park (Picture copyright CABI).

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