Siberian Federal University: Main Challenges about Invasive Alien Species

An international research team with a Russian scholar onboard studied how to improve the system of early detection and response to the penetration of alien plant or animal species into new regions. Such species are commonly referred to as invasive and cause profound harm to the ecosystems they are introduced to. Today, scientists focus on developing measures and approaches to detect intruders at the earliest stages of their penetration into new territories.

„In September 2019, Ljubljana (Slovenia) hosted DETECTION AND CONTROL OF FOREST INVASIVE ALIEN SPECIES IN A DYNAMIC WORLD international conference within LIFE ARTEMIS European project under the supervision of (Dr Maarten de Groot. Among other topics, they discussed early detection and prevention of the spread of invading species and the improvement of existing approaches. To reveal the challenges and development the potential of the early detection and rapid response system, we studied the cases of four alien species spreading in Europe – two animals (the grey squirrel and the emerald ash borer), a plant (the pokeweed or Phytolacca americana), and a phytopathogenic fungus (Geosmithia morbida) infecting walnut trees,“ said Natalia Kirichenko, a senior researcher at the School of Ecology and Geography of Siberian Federal University, and V.N. Sukachev Institute of Forest.

The eastern grey squirrel coming to Europe has become a fruit of distort for the regulatory authorities and public activists. This species is a serious threat to local squirrels, and it competes with them for food and habitat. The grey squirrel carries a dangerous infection, which often develops into an epidemic. The relative European squirrels suffer from it, while the grey squirrel is resistant to the disease. Moreover, this species harms some European woody plants, significantly damaging their bark. Since 2016, the grey squirrel has been included in the list of harmful alien species subjected to control in the EU countries, and there should have been no uncertainty whether to combat these animals in Europe. At the same time, controlling authorities are experiencing significant opposition from the public and animal rights activists who oppose the extermination of alien species, which, despite its harmfulness, is perceived as a cute fluffy creature that is pleasant to see, to feed, to hold in the palm of your hand.

„Invasion of the three other species damage both the environment and the economy, and some even threaten human health. For example, the phytolacca is a bright ornamental plant native to North America, loved by European gardeners. This species turned out to be easily adaptable and undemanding to living conditions. Now the phytolacca breaks free from gardens and penetrates the wild as a weed wherever possible – on vacant lots, near human habitation, under fences, and along roads. Unfortunately, this plant is very toxic and hazardous to both humans and animals! In the plant, not only the stems are poisonous, but also the leaves and fruit. Trying the seductive-looking phytolacca berries, a person risks dying from heart and respiratory failure. Animals – horses, sheep, and cattle – also suffer, as they can be poisoned if they eat fresh or mowed pokeweed that has fallen into hay,“ noted Natalia Kirichenko.

The expert clarified that there are typical problems when dealing with these invasive species, including identifying and early detection of species and their distribution routes. Also, scientists and relevant controlling bodies often face a lack of resources for regular monitoring. According to the researcher, sometimes there is no complete information about which national competent authorities should the civilians contact to report the finding of an invader in a new territory. In Russia, the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Supervision (Rosselkhoznadzor) and the All-Russian Plant Quarantine Center are authorized to deal with potential phytosanitary risks and alien species dangerous for agriculture and forestry. According to Natalia Kirichenko, the fact is that disunity of the activities of these institutions and the lack of cooperation with forestry and scientific departments, authorities and research institutes are the sticking points. There is no coordination in the collection and analysis of data on alien species – potential forest and agricultural pests in Russia. And this is despite the fact that on the territory of the country, there are dangerous invaders such as emerald ash borer (a pest of ash trees), a box tree moth (a pest of boxwood), an Ussuri polygraph that threatens fir forests, and a bark beetle that harms Siberian cedar.

„Alien species can enter new countries both independently and with human involvement. The latter happens more and more often: sometimes unintentionally through transporting plants, goods or cargos and sometimes deliberately during the introduction in the region for one purpose or another (for example, the introduction of some exotic plants for landscaping, or some species of insect-entomophages for conducting biological control of other types of insects). The message is the significance of coordinated work of structures to respond quickly and prevent the spread of alien species both within one state and in the global arena. As with any disease, which is wiser to prevent at the very beginning than to deal with the consequences, and with alien organisms – it is more expedient to identify and disarm them until their invasions in new ecosystems have turned into a disaster,“ summed up the scholar.

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