An invasive plant may cost a Caribbean island 576,704 dollars per year

Guest blog post by Wendy Jesse

Coralita overgrowing vegetation. Photo from

A recent study in One Ecosystem has estimated the severe loss of ecosystem service value as a result of the widespread invasion by the plant species Coralita (Antigonon leptopus) on the Caribbean island of St. Eustatius. The results illustrate the drastic impact that a single invader can have on the economy of a small island and inform policy makers about priority areas for invasive species management.

See for full article: Huisman, S., Jesse, W., Ellers, J., & van Beukering, P. (2021). Mapping the economic loss of ecosystem services caused by the invasive plant species Antigonon leptopus on the Dutch Caribbean Island of St. Eustatius. One Ecosystem6, e72881.

The invader: Coralita

Coralita is a fast-growing, climbing vine with beautiful pink or white flowers. Originally from Mexico, it was introduced as a popular garden plant to many Caribbean islands and around the world. Its fast-growing nature means that it can outcompete most native species for terrain, quickly becoming the dominant species and reducing overall diversity (Jesse et al. 2020, Nature Today 2020, Eppinga et al. 2021a). This is especially the case on St. Eustatius, where published ground surveys indicate that the plant already appears on 33 percent of the island.

Losses of ecosystem services

Coralita overgrowing cars. Photo by Rotem Zilber

We estimated the total terrestrial ecosystem service (ES) value on St. Eustatius to be $2.7 million per year by mapping five important terrestrial ecosystem services: Tourism, Carbon sequestration, Non-use (i.e., intrinsic biodiversity) value, Local recreational value, and Archeological value. Subsequently, we calculated Coralita-induced loss of ecosystem services under two realistic distributional scenarios of Coralita cover on the island: 3% of island dominantly covered (based on Haber et al. 2021, Nature Today 2021) and 36% dominant cover (if entire range would reach dominant coverage), causing an annual ES value loss of $39,804 and $576,704 respectively. The highest ES value (17,584 $/ha/year) as well as the most severe losses (3% scenario: 184 $/ha/year; 36% scenario: 1,257 $/ha/year) were located on the dormant Quill volcano; a highly biodiverse location with popular hiking trails for locals and tourists alike.

Consequences for policy makers and practitioners

Coralita blocking water a drainage channel. Photo by Wendy Jesse.

There is an urgent need for studies such as this one that help to bridge the gap between academia and policy planning, as these translate abstract numbers into intuitive information. Instead of invasive species being just a biological term, direct impacts on people’s value systems and sources of income immediately strike a chord. I experience this on a daily basis, because in addition to being a coauthor on this paper, I currently work as a policy employee in nature protection and management.

Coralita overgrowing archeological heritage on St. Eustatius. Photo from St. Eustatius Center for Archeological Research (SECAR)

This study helps to prioritize locations for invasive species prevention, management, eradication, and restoration. It is imperative that invasive species do not reach locations of high ecosystem service value. Management of isolated satellite patches of Coralita close to locations of high ES value will likely be most effective in halting the plant’s invasive spread (Eppinga et al. 2021b). Setting up a targeted monitoring and rapid response strategy, as well as legislation for biosecurity measures to prevent other invasive species from entering the island, would likely help to reduce impacts on the important ecosystem services on St. Eustatius.


Academic literature:

Eppinga, M. B., Haber, E. A., Sweeney, L., Santos, M. J., Rietkerk, M., & Wassen, M. J. (2021a). Antigonon leptopus invasion is associated with plant community disassembly in a Caribbean island ecosystem. Biological Invasions, 1-19.

Eppinga M, Baudena M, Haber E, Rietkerk M, Wassen M, Santos M (2021b) Spatially explicit removal strategies increase the efficiency of invasive plant species control.

Ecological Applications 31 (3): 1‑13. E, Santos M, Leitão P, Schwieder M, Ketner P, Ernst J, Rietkerk M, Wassen M, Eppinga M (2021) High spatial resolution mapping identifies habitat characteristics of the invasive vine Antigonon leptopuson St. Eustatius (Lesser Antilles). Biotropica 53 (3): 941‑953.

Jesse, W. A., Molleman, J., Franken, O., Lammers, M., Berg, M. P., Behm, J. E., … & Ellers, J. (2020). Disentangling the effects of plant species invasion and urban development on arthropod community composition. Global change biology26(6), 3294-3306.

Blog posts on Nature Today website:

van Maanen, G. Molleman, J., Jesse, W.A.M. (2020) Drastic effects of coralita on the biodiversity of insects and spiders. Nature Today.

Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (2021) Using satellite imagery to map St. Eustatius’ coralita invasion. Nature Today.

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