Climate change invites alien invaders – Is Canada ready?

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Environmentla Reviews

19 January 2012 -- Ottawa, Ontario - A comprehensive multi-disciplinary synthesis just published in Environmental Reviews reveals the urgent need for further investigation and policy development to address significant environmental, social and economic impacts of invasive alien species (IAS) and climate change.  “Effects of climate change on the distribution of invasive alien species in Canada: a knowledge synthesis of range change prediction in a warming world” is the collaborative effort of a team of dedicated researchers at York University’s Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS).

“Many species’ distributions are already changing in response to a warming climate, and ecosystems are predicted to become more vulnerable to invasive species as climatic barriers are eliminated,“ says author Dr. Andrea Smith, IRIS Senior Fellow, currently conducting a legislative review of invasive species policy in Canada for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network.  “The interactive effects of climate change and invasive species are expected to have profound consequences for environments, economies and societies worldwide. For example, many new infectious diseases will likely spread to the Arctic, and coordinated circumpolar disease monitoring and targeted healthcare planning will be needed to handle this new pressure. Yet, these two drivers of global change are rarely considered jointly in policy and management initiatives.”

This review reveals the barriers to predicting invasive species’ range changes under climate change, including the complexity of the issue, lack of ecological data, and failure to address climate change–IAS interactions in research and policy. Despite the multi-disciplinary nature of the issue, very few studies examine the socio-economic dimensions of the problem and research has tended to focus on predictions of how the distribution of existing invasive species in Canada (including mountain pine beetle, gypsy moth, smallmouth bass and lyme disease) will be affected by climate change, rather than on potential invasive species that might expand their range into Canada.

“This is just another example of how climate change is a big threat multiplier,' notes Dr. John P. Smol, Editor of Environmental Reviews and professor at Queen's University where he also holds the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change. “We simply have not even begun to understand all the negative repercussions of this problem.” This synthesis is the first to characterize the current state of knowledge on this critical issue in Canada. According to Smith, this knowledge synthesis approach is useful for identifying both what we know and what we don’t know, so that research, policy, and management can be targeted toward addressing those gaps. And, although knowledge of the impact of climate change on invasive species distribution is incomplete, scientific research is accumulating which can be used as the foundation for policy development.

The IRIS research team received funding from the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS — http://www.cfcas.org), an independent funding body dedicated to supporting research that improves our understanding of climate change impacts on health, safety, economy and environment.

Smith’s co-authors are Dr. Nina Hewitt (IRIS Senior Fellow and York University Department of Geography), Dr. Nicole Klenk (IRIS Senior Fellow), Professor Dawn Bazely (IRIS Director and York Department of Biology), Professor Norman Yan (IRIS Core Faculty and Dorset Environmental Science Centre and York Department of Biology), Professor Stepan Wood (IRIS Acting Director and Osgoode Hall Law School), Dr. James MacLellan (IRIS Senior Fellow and York Faculty of Environmental Studies), Professor Carla Lipsig-Mummé (Director of IRIS - affiliated Work in a Warming World program and York Department of Social Science) and Irene Henriques (IRIS Core Faculty member and Schulich School of Business).

Environmental Reviews, published by NRC Research Press, is an electronic-only quarterly review journal that covers a wide range of important environmental issues, including climate change. www.nrcresearchpress.com/er

For more information contact:
Corresponding author: Andrea Smith  (email: geckoals@yorku.ca)

Full Reference: Smith, A., Hewitt, N., Klenk, N., Bazely, D.R., Yan, N., Wood, S., Henriques, I., MacLellan, J.I., Lipsig-Mummé, C.  2012. Effects of climate change on the distribution of invasive alien species in Canada: a knowledge synthesis of range change projections in a warming world. Environmental Reviews, 20, 1-16. doi: 10-1139/a11-020. [Available Open Access on the www.nrcresearchpress.com website.]

About the Publisher
NRC Research Press, the publishing arm of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) since 1929, transitioned in September 2010 from NRC and the Federal Government of Canada into an independent not-for-profit organization operating under the new name Canadian Science Publishing. Canadian Science Publishing (which continues to operate under the brand NRC Research Press) is the foremost scientific publisher in Canada and one of the most advanced electronic publishing services in the world. With over 50 highly skilled experts and an editorial team comprising some of the world's leading researchers, NRC Research Press communicates scientific discoveries to more than 175 countries.

About IRIS
IRIS (www.irisyorku.ca) is an interdisciplinary research centre at York University dedicated to pursuing multifaceted approaches to the contemporary challenges of sustainability. It is a focal point for sustainability-related research and action at all ten of York’s faculties. Through collaborative and interdisciplinary research, IRIS strives to push beyond traditional research methods to tackle real-world challenges with unique solutions. It supports sustainability-related research of York faculty members and students and is a leader in trans-disciplinary team-based research.

Disclaimer
Canadian Science Publishing operates under the brand NRC Research Press but is not affiliated with the National Research Council Canada.  Papers published by Canadian Science Publishing are peer-reviewed by experts in their field.  The views of the authors in no way reflect the opinions of Canadian Science Publishing or the National Research Council of Canada.  Requests for commentary about the contents of any study should be directed to the authors.

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