Inspection of incoming plant material

Challenge: Invasive Species

Invasive species – global trade, biodiversity, and climate change

The scientific consensus is clear: Whether from increases in international trade and global tourism, climate change, challenges with securing borders, Internet commerce, or other means, invasive insects are a global challenge that imposes a massive economic burden with no simple solutions in sight. Several factors have contributed to the number of species crossing natural and political boundaries and becoming invasive in their new ranges. Consider that:

  • The world remains more interconnected than at any previous point in history. According to the World Trade Organization, global trade increased 27-fold from 1950 to 2005. A full 20 percent of food in the United States is now imported. Border statistics show continuing increases in freight across borders, bringing a corresponding increase in the risk for accidental or intentional introduction of non-native species.
  • Global tourism is increasing, with the result that travelers are exploring more remote corners of the globe than ever before. The rising tide of international travel raises the potential for accidental or overt introduction of species. Introduced species are often able to thrive in their new habitats where there are few natural predators and minimal defenses among the plants and animals on which they feed.
  • Invasive insects incur enormous annual control costs, causing countless losses to crops, lawns, forests, pastures, livestock operations, urban environments, and human health. Examples of devastating species introduction include the Asian citrus psyllid’s devastating $10.7 billion impact on the Florida citrus industry and the rapid spread of diseases transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes throughout the Americas.
  • Geopolitical challenges are increasing compelled human migration, which opens additional opportunities for transport of plant and animal species.
  • Changing climates have made some parts of the globe more hospitable to exotic species that heretofore would have been incapable of becoming established.

Critical Needs:

Species invasions are and will continue to be a concern requiring responses from entomologists. Although invasive species comprise all taxa, insects are among the most important groups of invaders. As components of native ecosystems, some species can contribute to resilience to invasion while others are vulnerable to displacement and extinction. Those invaders that become economic or medical pests must be studied to find methods to reduce their impacts and management efforts.

Challenge areas include:

  • Research: More research must be done on the invasion process and its drivers to help anticipate potential invasions and the patterns of invasion. The more we understand the invasion process, the better we will be able to predict, prevent, or at least manage it.
  • Innovation: From new exclusion and detection tools, to the development of predictive and rapid response capabilities, the scientific community must continue to develop better tools to assist regulators in effecting immediate and lasting change when species introductions occur.
  • Detection: Federal regulatory agencies have a Sisyphean task of attempting to find and stop species introductions at borders. While global border agents annually stop tens of thousands of pests from introduction, untold numbers of other insects slip past undetected. The problem is exacerbated in lesser-developed nations with fewer resources to devote to the task.
  • Response: Rapidity of response to an outbreak of an invasive insect species is crucial to managing the threat. Most pests are introduced in relatively low numbers and at one or a few locales, where they can be eradicated if detected promptly. Determination of an appropriate response requires a rapid and informed effort.
  • Training: Protecting borders is the responsibility of all who monitor them, including customs inspectors, agricultural agents, and baggage handlers. Additional responsibility rests with the public at large in terms of education and identification of non-native species.
  • Agro-terrorism: While most species introductions are either benign or accidental, there is a risk that enemies of state will intentionally attempt to introduce damaging insects to foreign nations.
  • Coordination: The world is more connected than at any time in past history. Coordination between and among international stakeholders is essential to detect and combat introduced species.
  • Collaborative models: This coordinated response will require the development of collaborative models that bring together a wide variety of stakeholders.

Learn more about what ESA and the world’s entomological community are doing to combat this threat.