The United Nations has issued a report stating that invasive species are proliferating at an unprecedented rate, posing a grave threat to ecosystems and human well-being on a global scale.
The report, released this week by the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), marks its first comprehensive assessment since 2019.
Among the highlighted concerns is the persistent struggle of Australia against the invasive cane toad. Originally hailing from South and Central America, these toads were introduced to Queensland in 1935 with the intent of controlling destructive beetles jeopardizing sugarcane crops.
Unfortunately, they quickly escaped captivity and have since expanded their range across the northern coast and westward.
The cane toad situation is just one example of over 37,000 alien species, intentionally or inadvertently introduced by humans into ecosystems worldwide, according to the UN report. These invaders, including plants, animals, and microorganisms, threaten native biodiversity and can lead to irreversible damage, including species extinctions.
Helen Roy, a professor at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and one of the report’s co-chairs, emphasized the gravity of the situation, stating, “Invasive alien species are a major threat to biodiversity and can cause irreversible damage to nature, including local and global species extinctions, and also threaten human well-being.”
Moreover, invasive species have the potential to spread diseases and disrupt food supplies, as seen with the Aedes aegypti mosquito transmitting diseases like dengue. The report cited an instance of invasive water hyacinth spreading across Lake Victoria in Africa, endangering local ecosystems and livelihoods.
Economically, the impact is staggering, with the global cost of invasive alien species exceeding $423 billion annually in 2019. This cost has been steadily rising, quadrupling each decade since 1970.
Addressing this critical issue requires a collective effort from the global community. Anibal Pauchard, from Chile’s Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity and another co-chair of the report, emphasized, “It would be an extremely costly mistake to regard biological invasions only as someone else’s problem.”
He highlighted that invasive species have played a major role in 60 percent of the world’s animal and plant extinctions and were the sole driver in 16 percent of those extinctions.
The report also pointed out that the climate crisis could exacerbate the impact of invasive species, such as grasses, which were blamed for recent devastating fires in Hawaii.
The IPBES assessment involved the collaborative efforts of 86 experts from 49 countries, underscoring the global urgency of addressing this escalating issue.