Wednesday, May 1, 2013

'Dirty dozen' invasive species threaten UK

EurekAlert: The researchers, Dr Bellinda Gallardo and Dr David Aldridge from the University of Cambridge, focussed on the 'dirty dozen' – a group of high-risk invasive aquatic plants and animals. Some, like the killer shrimp (Dikerogammarus villosus) and the bloody red mysid (Hemimysis anomala) are already in UK but have yet to spread. Others, such as the Asian clam (Corbicula fluminalis) and the marmokrebs, a crayfish (Procambarus fallax) may not yet have arrived.

Working with Species Distribution Models, which are routinely used to predict which regions most suit invasive species, the Cambridge pair made the models more accurate by including human factors such as population density, land-use and proximity to ports. Traditionally, the models are based on environmental conditions such as temperature and rainfall.

According to Dr Gallardo: "Invasive species need to be in the right place at the right time; they need the right environmental conditions, but they also need a helping hand from humans. This can happen intentionally, for example through introduction of commercial fish, or accidentally via hulls of boats, fishing equipment, or ballast water."

The role of humans, plus invasive species' great adaptability, make predicting their spread challenging. By including both human and environmental factors in the models, the researchers found the risk of invasion in the UK was increased by 20% in coastal, densely populated areas and places near transport routes, with the Thames, Anglian and Humber river basins at highest risk.

"These river basins already host many aquatic invaders. This is particularly worrying because invasive species often modify their habitat, making it more favourable to other invaders. This can eventually lead to a process known as invasional meltdown," she says.

Tackling the problem is costly. Invasive species are the second biggest threat to biodiversity after habitat loss. Around 12,000 invasive species have already arrived in Europe, where their combined impact on native biodiversity, agriculture, health and the economy costs at least €12 billion a year....

A bloody red mysid, via NOAA, public domain

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