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

Guest blog post by Wendy Jesse

Coralita overgrowing vegetation. Photo from https://www.wur.nl/en/show/invasive-plants-in-caribbean-netherlands.htm

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. https://doi.org/10.3897/oneeco.6.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.

References

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. https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.2257Haber 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. https://doi.org/10.1111/btp.12939

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. naturetoday.com/intl/en/nature-reports/message/?msg=26339

Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (2021) Using satellite imagery to map St. Eustatius’ coralita invasion. Nature Today. naturetoday.com/intl/en/nature-reports/message/?msg=28317

NeoBiota invites risk analysis studies in a new Special Issue on advancements in the screening of freshwater and terrestrial non-native species

The “Recent advancements in the risk screening of freshwater and terrestrial non-native species” Special Issue in the open-access, peer-reviewed scholarly journal NeoBiota is now open for submissions. The deadline for submission is 30 April 2022, with the issue scheduled for publication in August 2022.

The “Recent advancements in the risk screening of freshwater and terrestrial non-native species” Special Issue in the open-access, peer-reviewed scholarly journal NeoBiota is now open for submissions.

The issue is managed by the international team of guest editors of Dr Daniela Giannetto (Mugla Sitki Kocman University, Turkey), Prof. Marina Piria (University of Zagreb, Croatia), Prof. Ali Serhan Tarkan (Mugla Sitki Kocman University, Turkey) and Dr Grzegorz Zięba (University of Lodz, Poland).

Update: The deadline for submission has been extended to 30 April 2022, with the issue expected to be published in August 2022. 

The new special issue is expected to collate prominent contributors from the field of invasive ecology, thereby addressing existing gaps in the knowledge about both freshwater and terrestrial non-native species and their management.

The editors note that despite the current efforts and measures to monitor and tackle the spread of non-native species, and especially those posing imminent threat to local biodiversity and ecosystems, further expansion of such populations has increasingly been recorded in recent years. Of special concern are developing countries, where legislation for controlling non-native species is still lacking.

A major problem is that – as of today – we are still missing on risk screening studies needed to provide evidence for the invasiveness potential of many non-native species across several taxonomic groups, which would then be used to support specific conservation efforts. Unfortunately, this is particularly true for species inhabiting the world’s biodiversity hotspots, point out the editors.

Risk-based identification of non-native species is an essential process to inform policy and actions for conservation and management of biodiversity. Previously published papers on risk screening of aquatic non-native species, and especially those using the most widely-employed ‘-ISK’ decision-support toolkits, have attracted mounting interest from the wider scientific community.

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Citizen scientists help expose presence of invasive Asian bamboo longhorn beetle in Europe

A worryingly high number of Asian bamboo longhorn beetles turn out to have been emerging across Europe for about a century already, finds an international research team. Curiously, the records of the invasive, non-native to the Old Continent species are mostly sourced from citizen scientists and online platforms, which proves the power of involving the public in species monitoring. The study is published in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal BioRisk.

A worryingly high number of Asian bamboo longhorn beetles (Chlorophorus annularis) turn out to have been emerging across Europe for about a century already, finds an international research team, headed by researchers from the Center of Natural History, University of Hamburg, Germany. Curiously, the recent records of the invasive, non-native to the Old Continent species are mostly sourced from citizen scientists and online platforms, which proves the power of involving the public in species monitoring. The study is published in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal BioRisk.

In our globalised world, which has already become victim to climate change and biodiversity loss, non-native species present a further threat to our ecosystems. Thus, the rising accounts of newly recorded alien species are of serious concern to both scientists and (inter)national institutions. However, surveying non-native species remains limited to a small fraction of species: those known to be particularly invasive and harmful.

One of the multitude of non-native species that are currently lacking efficient and coordinated surveying efforts is the Asian bamboo longhorn beetle (Chlorophorus annularis). Naturally occurring in temperate and tropical Southeast Asia, the insect feeds on a variety of plants, but prefers bamboo. Thus, due to the international trade of bamboo and the insects ‘travelling’ with the wood, the species has continuously been expanding its distribution around the world. Its first appearance in Europe was recorded back in 1924, when it was identified in England.

Bamboo longhorn beetle captured in Braintree, United Kingdom
Photo by Stephen Rolls

Back to our days, during a fieldwork practice for students at the University of Hamburg, held within the city because of the COVID-19 travelling restrictions, the team stumbled across a longhorn beetle, later identified by scientists as the Asian bamboo borer. Furthermore, it became clear that there were even more recent records published across different citizen science platforms, such as iNaturalist, iRecord and Waarneming.nl. Having taken the contacts of the citizen scientists from there, the researchers approached them to ask for additional collection details and images, which were readily provided. As a result, the researchers formally confirmed the presence of the Asian bamboo borer in Belgium and the Netherlands. In total, they reported thirteen new introductions of the species in Europe, which translates to a 42% increase of the records of the species for the continent.

“In light of the warming climate and a growing abundance of ornamental bamboo plants in Europe, the beetle might get permanently established. Not only could it become a garden pest, but it could also incur significant costs to the bamboo-processing industry,”

comments Dr Matthias Seidel, lead author of the study.

Having realised the potential of citizen science for bridging the gaps in invasive species monitoring, the researchers now propose for specialised platforms to be established with the aim to familiarise non-professional scientists with non-native species of interest and provide them with more sophisticated reporting tools. The aim is to speed up the identification of important alien species by collating records of specific species of interest, which are flagged and regularly exported from other citizen science databases and platforms. 

Bamboo longhorn beetle captured in Lincoln, United Kingdom
Photo by Sheena Cotter

Original source: 

Seidel M, Lüttke M, Cocquempot C, Potts K, Heeney WJ, Husemann M (2021) Citizen scientists significantly improve our knowledge on the non-native longhorn beetle Chlorophorus annularis (Fabricius, 1787) (Coleoptera, Cerambycidae) in Europe. BioRisk 16: 1–13. https://doi.org/10.3897/biorisk.16.61099

Australia’s wish list of exotic pets

In a new study, published in the peer-reviewed open-access scholarly journal Neobiota, scientists estimated the desire of Australians to own non-native and/or illegal alien pets and the major trends in this practice. In addition, the team suggests ways to improve biosecurity awareness in the country.

Juvenile green iguanas for sale at Repticon Trading Convention 2018 in Palm Springs, Florida
Photo by Adam Toomes

Unsustainable trade of species is a major pathway for the introduction of invasive alien species at distant localities and at higher frequencies. It is also a major driver of over-exploitation of wild native populations. In a new study, published in the peer-reviewed open-access scholarly journal Neobiota, scientists estimated the desire of Australians to own non-native and/or illegal alien pets and the major trends in this practice. In addition, the team suggests ways to improve biosecurity awareness in the country.

Over the last two decades, Australia has been experiencing an increased amount of non-native incursions from species prominent in the international pet trade, such as rose-ringed parakeets, corn snakes and red-eared sliders. On many occasions, these animals are smuggled into the country only to escape or be released in the wild.

In general, the Australian regulations on international pet trade are highly stringent, in order to minimise biosecurity and conservation risks. Some highly-desirable species represent an ongoing conservation threat and biosecurity risk via the pet-release invasion pathway. However, lack of consistent surveillance of alien pets held, legally or otherwise, in Australia remains the main challenge. While there are species which are not allowed to be imported, they are legal for domestic trade within the country. Pet keepers have the capacity to legally or illegally acquire desired pets if they are not accessible through importation, and the number of such traders is unquantified.

Since keeping most of the alien pets in Australia is either illegal or not properly regulated, it is really difficult to quantify and assess the public demand for alien wildlife.

A juvenile ball python for sale at Repticon Trading Convention 2018 in Palm Springs, Florida
Photo by Adam Toomes

“We obtained records of anonymous public enquiries to the Australian Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment relating to the legality of importation of various alien taxa. We aimed to investigate whether species desired in Australia were biased towards being threatened by extinction, as indicated by broader research on pet demand or towards being invasive species elsewhere, which would indicate trade-related biosecurity risks”,

shares the lead author Mr. Adam Toomes from the University of Adelaide.

According to the research team’s analysis, pets desired by Australians are significantly biased towards threatened species, invasive species and species prominent in the U.S. pet trade.

“This novel finding is of great concern for biosecurity agencies because it suggests that a filtering process is occurring where illegally smuggled animals may already be “pre-selected” to have the characteristics that are correlated with invasive species,”

warns Mr. Adam Toomes.

However, the bias towards species already traded within the U.S. suggests that there is potential to use this as a means of predicting future Australian desire, as well as the acquisition of pets driven by desire. Future research from the Invasion Science & Wildlife Ecology Group at The University of Adelaide will investigate whether Australian seizures of illegal pets can be predicted using U.S. trade data.

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Original source:

Toomes A, Stringham OC, Mitchell L, Ross JV, Cassey P (2020) Australia’s wish list of exotic pets: biosecurity and conservation implications of desired alien and illegal pet species. NeoBiota 60: 43-59. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.60.51431

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Experiment suggests the best ways to tackle invasive Oregon grape in Belgian coastal dunes

The Belgian coastal dunes, a protected habitat of high conservation value, are getting severely impacted by one of its worst enemies amongst invasive species: the Oregon grape. To help mitigate the detrimental effect of this North American shrub invader, Belgian scientists carried out an experiment to assess the effectiveness of different management methods.

The Belgian coastal dunes, a protected habitat of high conservation value, are getting severely impacted by one of its worst enemies amongst invasive species: the Oregon grape. To help mitigate the detrimental effect of this North American shrub invader, Belgian scientists carried out an experiment to assess the effectiveness of different management methods.

The Atlantic coastal dunes form a dynamic and diverse ecosystem, home to a large number of native species, many of which are regionally threatened. Embryonic dunesshifting white dunes, moss dunes, dune grasslands, and dune slacks are considered high conservation value sites, according to the interpretation manual of European habitats. However, the dunes are highly affected by external influences, and one of the most important threats to their biodiversity are invasive non-native plant species. These plants often colonised the dunes as garden escapes or spread from garden waste dumps or public plantings. Oregon grape is one of the worst invaders amongst them.

Oregon grape growing on sand dune (Belgium).
Photo by Tim Adriaens.

In their study, published in the open-access journal NeoBiota, the scientists, led by Tim Adriaens and Sam Provoost of the Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO), focus on the management of the current populations of Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium) in the Belgian coastal dunes, where the species has already managed to invade half of the 46 nature reserves and is starting to replace native vegetation. Such a negative effect on the biodiversity of the area requires practical management advice. Due to the high level of infestation of the dunes, the researchers recommend prompt eradication as the most appropriate management strategy. So far, however, it has been unclear which method would show the best effectiveness.

“Invasive shrub species exert an additional pressure on Belgian dune ecosystems, which are already highly fragmented by urbanisation. Oregon grape is one of the worst and should be tackled urgently before it gets out of control,” says Tim Adriaens.

Having compared four previously suggested treatments: manual uprooting, foliar herbicide application, stem cutting followed by herbicide and salt application, the scientists reported herbicide leaf treatment to be the most effective method. Manual removal by digging and treating stems with glyphosate showed medium effectiveness. Treating stems with a saturated salt solution appeared rather cosmetic. However, it’s not that easy to choose which method would be the best to work with, since with herbicide use there are non-target effects on the environment, economy, and society to be considered.

Dune restoration by mechanical removal of dense Oregon grape infestation (left) and leaf treatment of Oregon grape clone with a hand sprayer (right).
Photo by Tim Adriaens.

“Individual clones are best treated with herbicide, large surface areas provide opportunities for landscape-scale ecological restoration, combining invasive shrub removal with sand dune creation,” further explains Tim Adriaens.

In Belgium, Oregon grape was first recorded in the wild in 1906 and naturalised in the period 1920-1950. It has been spreading rapidly since the 1990s. This expansion might be linked to cultivated hybrids and global warming, with the latter leading to a lengthened growing season, suggest the scientists. The species likes calcareous soils. Along the Belgian coast, Oregon grape has mainly invaded grey dunes, scrub and woodland.

Thanks to its numerous blue berries, which are easily dispersed over long distances by songbirds, the plant can appear everywhere within the dunes sites, also in places hardly accessible to managers. With the help of a highly branched root system, the plants attach themselves firmly in the sand, which makes manual pulling of mature plants hardly possible and labor-intensive.

“Dune managers and scientists across Europe should unite to draft alert lists and prioritise established alien species for management,” Tim says in conclusion.

In conclusion, the scientists highlight the importance of an EU-wide collaboration between scientific communities. Invasive species are not bothered by administrative borders and exchanging experiences on impact and management options is crucial to maintain dune ecosystems in good conservation status.

Coastal dunes in Belgium provide unique habitat to many Red listed species.
Photo by Tim Adriaens.

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Original source

Adriaens T, Verschelde P, Cartuyvels E, D’hondt B, Vercruysse E, van Gompel W, Dewulf E, Provoost S (2019) A preliminary field trial to compare control techniques for invasive Berberis aquifolium in Belgian coastal dunes. NeoBiota 53: 41-60. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.53.38183

Invasive parrots have varying impacts on European biodiversity, citizens and economy

The monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus), also known as the Quaker parrot, is another South American species, known from the temperate to subtropical regions of Argentina and neighboring countries.
Photo by ParrotNet.

Non-native parrots can cause substantial agricultural damage and threaten native biodiversity, although impacts vary strongly depending on where these parrots have been introduced. Brought to Europe as pets, escaped or released parrots have established numerous wild populations across Europe. Tens of thousands of ring-necked and monk parakeets make up the bulk of Europe’s parrots, but several more species are gaining a foothold too.

A pan-European team of researchers, conservationists, wildlife managers and policy-makers worked together under the umbrella of ParrotNet, an EU COST Action, and have reviewed the available evidence on parrot damage, concluding that measures to prevent parrots from invading new areas are paramount for limiting future harm. Their findings are published in the open-access journal NeoBiota.

The ring-necked parakeet (Psittacula krameri), also known as the rose-ringed parakeet, originates in Africa and South Asia.
Photo by ParrotNet.

Introduced parrots can damage the environment, but severe impacts remain rare and localised. So far, most reports of damage are linked to the widespread and locally abundant ring-necked and monk parakeets. Studies show that in their native ranges, both species can and regularly do inflict large crop losses, but in Europe, expectations of comparable widespread and severe damage to agriculture have so far failed to materialise.

In Europe, competition with native species presents a more serious problem, especially for ring-necked parakeets as they can compete with native species for food and breeding sites. Meanwhile, in the Americas, monk parakeets are notorious for the damage their stick nests cause to power infrastructures by catching fire, yet very little evidence for such problems exist in Europe.

Reported impacts for other parakeet species in Europe are virtually nonexistent, probably because these species have been introduced more recently and currently exist as relatively small and localised populations.

Dr Diederik Strubbe of the Terrestrial Ecology UnitGhent University (Belgium) elaborates:

“It was already well known that introduced parakeets can cause damage. There is the oft-cited example of a vineyard in Surrey (UK) where ring-necked parakeets caused a loss of thousands of bottles of wine. In Seville (Spain), the same parakeet species is threatening an endangered native bat population by evicting them from their roosting tree cavities. Our review of all reported impacts however shows that such severe damage is not the norm. In most cases, parakeets introduced to Europe only do limited damage and, for example, about half of the studies focusing on competition between introduced parakeets and native species explicitly report no evidence of impact.”

The study also highlights that differences in the type of damage, and the way they are reported and summarised influences the outcomes of invasive species impact assessments.

The generalised threat level that invasive species pose is often based on their worst known impacts, whilst the capabilities of a species to do damage often requires specific circumstances. While this is relevant information for identifying those invaders that can potentially have major impacts, it is not necessarily representative of the impacts the species is likely to have when introduced to a new area. Similarly, including damage reports from the native range or from other invaded ranges typically results in higher threat level estimates compared to what actually has been observed in Europe.

What can be done to mitigate parakeet impacts?

The Alexandrine parakeet (Psittacula eupatria), also known as the Alexandrine parrot, occupies a natural range that extends from Afghanistan to Vietnam, including all of India, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands.
Photo by ParrotNet.

Based on the results of the study, the ParrotNet members also published a ‘policy brief’, summarising and discussing the implications of their findings for policy makers and wildlife managers. Their recommendations include stricter regulation aimed at preventing parakeet introductions, rapid response when emerging populations are detected and better dissemination of information to the public about the impact parakeets can have. For example, using bird feeders that parakeets cannot access may help reduce the abundance of these birds in cities.

Prof. Jim Groombridge of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE)School of Anthropology and ConservationUniversity of Kent (UK) comments:

“What should be done to minimise damage by invasive parakeets is ultimately up to policy-makers. But as scientists, we stress that our work again highlights that the best way to combat invasive species is to prevent their introduction and spread. Parakeet populations have already been successfully removed, for example, from islands such as the Seychelles, demonstrating that it is possible to stop them when prompt and decisive action is taken by governments. For the already established and large parakeet populations that can be found across parts of Europe, there is no ‘silver bullet’ solution to the problems they may locally pose. More applied research is needed to find cost-effective and acceptable methods to reduce parakeet impacts in those areas where they do cause damage”.

The nanday parakeet (Aratinga nenday), also known as the black-hooded parakeet, is a species native to South America.
Photo by ParrotNet.

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Original source:

White RL, Strubbe D, Dallimer M, Davies ZG, Davis AJS, Edelaar P, Groombridge J, Jackson HA, Menchetti M, Mori E, Nikolov BP, Pârâu LG, Pečnikar ZF, Pett TJ, Reino L, Tollington S, Turbé A, Shwartz A (2019) Assessing the ecological and societal impacts of alien parrots in Europe using a transparent and inclusive evidence-mapping scheme. NeoBiota 48: 45-69. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.48.34222

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The ParrotNet Policy Brief can be downloaded from: https://www.kent.ac.uk/parrotnet/policybrief/.