New study reveals alarming impact of invasive alien species on ecosystems, mountains included

Jun 23, 2023

Author: Miranda García (AEIDL) 

Invasive alien species, which are organisms introduced into non-native environments, pose a significant threat to native biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, according to a new study by the Joint Research Centre (JRC). The research, conducted across 27 European Union countries, assessed the incidence and potential pressure on different ecosystems of 66 invasive alien species included in the EU’s list of Union concern by 2019. The findings highlight the urgent need for coordinated measures to mitigate the negative effects of IAS on both the environment and the economy. 

The most impact ecosystems 

The study revealed that urban and freshwater ecosystems were the most invaded, with approximately 68% and 52% of their respective areas affected by invasive alien species. Forest and woodland ecosystems followed closely behind, with nearly 44% of their extent invaded. The average potential pressure of invasive alien species was highest in cropland and forests, indicating the severity of their impact in these areas. 

Invasive species in mountainous ecosystems 

Notably, the study also sheds light on the impact of invasive alien species on Europe’s mountainous regions. These areas, often perceived as isolated and less susceptible to invasive species due to their harsh conditions and difficult accessibility, are not immune to the threat. The research indicates that invasive species have managed to establish themselves in these high-altitude ecosystems, disrupting the unique biodiversity and ecological balance. The invasion patterns in these regions could be attributed to various factors, including climate change, which makes these areas more hospitable to certain invasive species, and human activities, such as tourism and transportation, which often act as vectors for the introduction of invasive alien species.  

Interestingly, the study also found regional variations in invasion patterns. The Atlantic region showed the greatest invasion, followed by the Continental and Mediterranean regions.  

A call for proactive measures 

The implications of invasive alien species invasion are far-reaching. The study emphasised the need for proactive measures to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species, as well as effective management strategies to control their impact. It calls for policy-makers, researchers, and environmental organisations to address this growing problem and emphasises the need for ongoing research and standardised practices to understand and quantify the impacts of invasive species. In line with these findings, the EU Regulation on invasive alien species requires the adoption of preventive and management measures to mitigate the threat they pose to ecosystems, habitats, and species. 

Polce, C., Cardoso, A.C., Deriu, I. et al. Invasive alien species of policy concerns show widespread patterns of invasion and potential pressure across European ecosystems. Sci Rep 13, 8124 (2023).