BIODIVERSITY: Why Invasive Species Could Survive Amid Extreme Disaster  

One of the wetlands at the Morgan Swamp Preserve
One of the wetlands at the Morgan Swamp Preserve

By Insight Post Uganda

New Study

Extreme climate events are becoming increasingly common, causing havoc across the globe. While these events pose significant challenges to local ecosystems and species, a new study suggests that non-native plants and animals, known as invasive species, are capitalising on these disasters, further threatening already vulnerable local species.  

Invasive species, often introduced through human activities, have been a major contributor to global extinction rates and the catastrophic decline in biodiversity, which has profound implications for the well-being of people and the planet.

For example, Giant African Snails which are native to East Africa, have been introduced to many tropical regions have damaged crops and currently causing a public health concern in different countries.

The Impact

Extreme weather events, including heatwaves, droughts, floods, and storms, have been intensified by global warming. According to a study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, these weather extremes provide invasive species with an unintended advantage.

The study found that invasive species experienced positive impacts from extreme weather nearly twice as often as native species. Local species, in contrast, were more likely to suffer negative consequences from these disasters.

Lead author Xuan Liu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing told AFP that extreme weather events might facilitate the establishment and spread of non-native species, posing a significant threat to biodiversity under ongoing global change.  

The study revealed that invasive species were only vulnerable to heatwaves and storms, while native animals on land and in freshwater ecosystems experienced negative impacts across several factors, including survival rates, reproduction, and body size, due to various extreme weather events.

Invasive Species Exploit Weather Extremes

Differences in how species respond to unusual weather events can be attributed to the deaths of native species during such extremes. This creates opportunities for invasive species to exploit the newly available niches.  

For example, severe droughts can increase the salt content of water, leading to the demise of local invertebrates and fish.

Invasive species, often more salt-tolerant and with rapid growth rates, can take advantage of these conditions to establish themselves. Their competitive edge allows them to recolonize faster, further crowding out native species.

In marine environments, both native and non-native species appear to be relatively immune to extreme weather events.

However, even in this setting, native molluscs and corals are vulnerable to heat waves, emphasising the complex and multifaceted nature of the challenges posed by climate change and invasive species.

Invasive Species problem

Invasive species are not a new problem but are rapidly growing and causing special concern in across the Globe. A landmark report by the intergovernmental science advisory panel for the UN Convention on Biodiversity (IPBES) revealed that invasive species are increasing at an “unprecedented rate” globally.  

This increase is costing more than USD400 billion a year in damages and lost income. The report noted that invasive species primarily spread as hitchhikers through global trade and have played a significant role in 60 percent of all documented plant or animal extinctions.

Farmers and Government

Given the increasing threat of invasive species during extreme climate events, environment and human rights activists say farmers and governments must take proactive measures to mitigate their impact on local biodiversity and ecosystems.

Antonio Kalyango, the Executive Director -Biodiversity Conservation Foundation (BCF) Preventing the introduction and spread of invasive species is the first line of defence. This can be achieved through stricter regulations on the import and transportation of non-native species, as well as improved biosecurity measures.

Furthermore, he added, regular monitoring and early detection programs can help identify invasive species before they become established. Early intervention is often more cost-effective and successful in eradicating or controlling invasions.

Still, Kalyango notes, educating the public, including farmers and local communities, about the risks and consequences of invasive species is essential. Encouraging responsible practices and reporting of potential invasive species can help prevent their spread.

Supporting ecosystem restoration and conservation projects can help restore native habitats and improve the resilience of local species in the face of extreme weather events.

Research efforts should focus on understanding the specific impacts of invasive species during different types of extreme weather events. This knowledge can inform adaptive strategies to protect local ecosystems.

Moreover, invasive species often cross borders, making international cooperation and information-sharing crucial for effective management.

Guidelines And Regulations

Governments around the world maintain lists of invasive species that are prohibited or restricted from import or transportation. These blacklists serve as a critical tool to identify and prevent the inadvertent introduction of potentially harmful species, thereby safeguarding native biodiversity and ecosystems.

Importation and quarantine regulations are a frontline defence against the introduction of invasive species. These regulations require thorough inspections and quarantine measures for goods and animals entering a country. Importers often need to obtain permits or certificates for certain items, ensuring that they do not carry invasive species or diseases.

Regulatory requirements for the reporting of potentially invasive species or unusual biological findings are invaluable for early detection and response. These regulations ensure that new introductions are quickly identified, allowing for prompt management and control measures to be implemented, minimising potential damage.

Robust biosecurity measures at transportation hubs, such as ports and airports, are essential for detecting and preventing the accidental transportation of invasive species. These measures include inspections, monitoring, and even the deployment of sniffer dogs, all working together to intercept and mitigate the risk of invasive species introduction.


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