Invasive alien species are driving biodiversity loss and extinctions in every country, all over the world.
Responding to the challenge, the United Nations is today releasing the first global assessment of invasive alien species and their control.
It comes from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which represents almost 140 member states.
Over four years, 86 expert authors from 49 countries gathered the latest scientific evidence and Indigenous and local knowledge on invasive alien species. The report draws on more than 13,000 references, including governmental reports. We were among the authors. Here are some of the key insights for Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.
Hope in the face of increasing threats
In 2019, IPBES released a global biodiversity assessment that placed invasive alien species in the top five drivers of biodiversity loss – alongside changing land- and sea-use, over-exploitation of natural resources, climate change, and pollution.
This triggered further assessment to determine the current global state of biological invasions, the effectiveness of our existing responses, and recommended management and policy options.
The result, released today, is the most comprehensive overarching policy-relevant report on biological invasions to date.
It promises to help us meet our international obligations under the recently adopted UN Convention on Biological Diversity. In particular, one of the targets in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework is to “eliminate, minimise, reduce and/or mitigate the impacts of invasive alien species on biodiversity and ecosystem services”.
The world faces increasing biosecurity threats, but effective management can prevent or lessen the extent of subsequent biological invasions. Ambitious progress can be achieved with an integrated approach.
The experience in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand
Globally, we observe around 200 new alien species every year, and many of these species (>10%) have negative impacts, including threats to native species, the health of natural vegetation, or the way ecosystems work.
The assessment reveals that invasive alien species have contributed to 60% of global extinctions, and have been the sole driver of 16% of recorded extinctions.
Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand have among the highest modern global native species extinction rates. Australia is the worst in the world for mammals, while Aotearoa New Zealand has experienced tragic loss in endemic birds, largely due to invasive species.
The economies of both countries rely heavily on agriculture, trade and eco-tourism. These sectors are highly susceptible to threats from invasive alien species. The cost to Australia is A$24.5 billion a year out of an estimated global cost of $654 billion (US$423 billion a year).
The cost of biological invasions is quadrupling every decade, but stringent biosecurity policies and practices can protect our environment and economies. They also safeguard our wellbeing and cultural and social livelihoods.
At the same time, already established invasive alien species can supercharge environmental disasters. For example, the wildfire-promoting properties of introduced African pasture grasses exacerbated bushfires in Hawaii this year.
Coordinate, consult and prioritise
An effective biosecurity system can mitigate the threats from invasive species. But to do so, we’ll need coherent policy across primary production and logistic sectors, better education and greater public awareness.
We need to coordinate and prioritise our efforts, from offshore ports to border control and quarantine, through to eradication or containment of any new pests and weeds.
Government-industry partnerships are leading to trusted “green-lane” trade supply chains. This cuts red tape for businesses that manage import risks and produce pre-costed and co-designed emergency response agreements.
Biosecurity tools work best alongside strong public support, regulation and governance. We share a proud history of effective biological control programs for many weeds and pests. Australia’s approach to rabbit control using a virus was a world-first and it remains in use 70 years later. This has delivered benefits worth more than $70 billion.
Despite strong biosecurity measures, highly engaged primary industries agricultural industries, excellent research infrastructure and a high level of public awareness, invasive alien species continue to slip through our borders and multiply.
One world, ‘One Biosecurity’
The rising pressure of trade will likely outpace the resourcing dedicated to biosecurity measures. Frequent interceptions of pests, weeds, and diseases at our border highlight the pressure we are under. We will have to simply become smarter, more effective, and better coordinated across the human, animal, plant and ecosystem health sectors.
We encourage governments to recognise the threats invasive alien pests pose and mobilise their resources and capability to combat these threats – in regions where a species is first recognised as going rogue, rather than simply monitoring its progressive global spread. This is the One Biosecurity concept.
Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand can play a much stronger leadership role in managing biosecurity risks in the Pacific. After all, lax border protocols in our neighbourhood help pests and diseases end up on our doorstep.
Andy Sheppard, as a chief research scientist with CSIRO, receives funding from the Australian federal government. This included funding to participate in the IPBES Assessment process as a coordinating lead author from 2019-2023, where he co-led Chapter 5 and made contributions to three other chapters. He is therefore well connected to the IPBES process, corporate, assessment team and media team. However, as a CSIRO employee he respects all the values of the organisation and does not undertake any commentary that would be seen to criticise Australian government policy or in any way lobby for additional research funding from governments.
Melodie McGeoch receives funding from the Australian Research Council – ARC SRIEAS Grant SR200100005 Securing Antarctica’s Environmental Future. She is affiliated with La Trobe University and Monash University. She is 1st Vice Chair of the Science Committee of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences, Member of the Implementation Committee of the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network, Independent Board Member of the National Computation Infrastructure and on the Editorial Board of Global Ecology and Biogeography.
Philip Hulme receives research funding from the New Zealand government. He is affiliated with Lincoln University, New Zealand. and is a member of the Canterbury-Aoraki Conservation Board and a Director of the QEII Trust. He is a member of the Biosecurity Advisory Groups of both Environment Canterbury and Zespri.
Phill Cassey receives funding from the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions and the Australian Research Council.