Invasive Species and Climate Change

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Invasive species can compromise ecosystems and negatively affect existing biodiversity (Invasive Species Centre, n.d.). Climate change will only speed up the introduction and spread of these species, meaning that something needs to be done and fast (Invasive Species Centre, n.d.). Let’s take a look at invasive species, climate change and what you can do to help!

What are Invasive Species?

Invasive species are defined as organisms that are not native to a particular area (National Geographic, n.d.). It is important to make the distinction that not all non-native species are invasive (National Geographic, n.d.). For example, many crops grown in the US, such as tomatoes, wheat, and rice, are not native to the region, but they are not invasive (National Geographic, n.d.). In order for a species to be classified as invasive, it must be able to adapt to its new environment and reproduce quickly (National Geographic, n.d.). It must harm property, the economy, or native plants and animals in the region (National Geographic, n.d.). Invasive species are not limited to certain species, such as fish for example but may include plants, insects, pathogens, and much more (Invasive Species Centre, n.d.). Many invasive species are introduced completely by accident, while others may be on purpose (National Geographic, n.d.). We will discuss these two categories in the following sections.

Invasive Species Introduced on Accident

In the late 1940s or early 1950s, Brown tree snakes were brought accidentally to Guam (National Geographic, n.d.). A big reason why invasive species can reproduce so quickly is because there are no natural predators in the new area to hunt them down (National Geographic, n.d.). These snakes multiplied quickly and are now responsible for the extinction of 9 of the 11 forest-dwelling bird species on the island (National Geographic, n.d.). 

Invasive Species Introduced on Purpose

Although some invasive species may be introduced on purpose, it is not with the intent of destroying ecosystems. Rather, these species are introduced in the hopes of controlling pests, as pets, or as decoration (National Geographic, n.d.). However, some consequences may be overlooked in the process, and these consequences continue to be difficult to predict even for scientists (National Geographic, n.d.). In 1949, 5 cats were brought to Marion Island in South Africa to control the population of mice (National Geographic, n.d.). By 1977, these five cats had multiplied to an astounding 3,400, endangering the local bird population (National Geographic, n.d.). Sometimes other species may be introduced to hunt these invasive species down, but this can throw the natural food chain off balance (National Geographic, n.d.). Other invasive species have competed with native species for food, destroyed habitats, prevented other species from growing, and damaged property and economies (National Geographic, n.d.). 

Climate Change and Invasive Species

So how exactly can climate change make invasive species an even larger problem? There are four ways:

  1. Extreme weather events. As these events become more frequent, this can place stress on native species, allowing invasive species to fully take over and spread (Invasive Species Centre, n.d.). 
  2. Melting sea ice. Melting sea ice allows for new routes and pathways to be used by ships as well as invasive species (Invasive Species Centre, n.d.). 
  3. Changing climate. This can change species’ life cycles and alter their ability to spread to other areas (Invasive Species Centre, n.d.). This can also create more favorable conditions, such as humidity, rainfall, and temperature, for invasive species to spread (Invasive Species Centre, n.d.). 
  4. More CO2. Increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere lead to higher CO2 uptake by plants, which can also increase herbicide resistance (Invasive Species Centre, n.d.). 

What You Can Do 

The best way to prevent invasive species from damaging our ecosystems is by controlling their spread in the first place (The Nature Conservancy, 2013). While it may sound like it must take a lot of work, there are a few things you can do to make a difference!

  • Stay informed. Know which plants in your yard are invasive and replace them with alternatives (The Nature Conservancy, 2013). Help educate others so they are also aware (The Nature Conservancy, 2013). 
  • Clean thoroughly. To prevent accidentally transporting invasive species, clean your boat and boots before moving into a new area (The Nature Conservancy, 2013). Clean your bags, throw out food that may carry pests, and don’t move firewood (The Nature Conservancy, 2013). 
  • Don’t release anything into the wild. Make sure you do research if you wish to own an exotic pet and don’t release anything, including live bait, aquarium fish, and plants where they don’t belong (The Nature Conservancy, 2013). 

References

Invasive Species Centre. (n.d.). Invasive species in a changing climate. Invasive Species Centre. Retrieved Jul 26, 2023, from: https://www.invasivespeciescentre.ca/invasive-species/what-is-at-risk/climatechange/#:~:text=The%20spread%20of%20invasive%20species,the%20effects%20of%20climate%20change

National Geographic. (n.d.). Invasive Species. National Geographic. Retrieved Jul 26, 2023, from: https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/invasive-species/

The Nature Conservancy. (2013). Invasive Species: What You Can Do. The Nature Conservancy. Retrieved Jul 26, 2023, from: https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-priorities/protect-water-and-land/land-and-water-stories/invasive-plant-species-invasive-species-education-1/#:~:text=Don%27t%20“pack%20a%20pest,travel%20from%20place%20to%20place.

About Post Author

Elizabeth Wang

Elizabeth Wang is a Health Sciences student working as a Research Assistant for EnvironFocus Inc. She hopes to share her perspectives and is always ready to learn more from others.
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