Environment: Pooling information to combat the threat of alien species in Europe

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Brussels -- How many plants can be found in the Alps that are not native to that region? Which animals were deliberately or accidently introduced to the Danube? How big a threat will they become to local wildlife? EASIN, the European Alien Species Information Network, launched today by the European Commission's in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), takes a first step towards answering these and other questions related to 16 000 alien species currently reported all over Europe. This information network – the first of its kind in Europe – is an important step to deal with the threat of alien species that become invasive. Invasive species present a serious threat to biodiversity and natural resources, with an economic impact estimated at around € 12 billion per year.

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: 'Invasive alien species are causing growing problems for our natural resources, people's health and the economy. This threat arises from non-native species whose numbers are growing rapidly in an increasingly interconnected world. The EASIN network will help people in Europe get better information about where non-native species are, and how common they are – and that will support better policy making on this difficult issue.'

Alien species – non-native organisms that become established in a new environment – are on the increase worldwide. Most of them do not present significant risks for their new environment. However, some of them adapt so successfully to the new environment that they become invasive – from being biological curiosities they become genuine threats to local ecosystems, crops and livestock, threatening our environmental and social wellbeing. Invasive alien species are the second leading cause of biodiversity loss, after habitat alteration.

EASIN facilitates the mapping and classification of alien species by indexing reported data from over 40 online databases. Through dynamically updated web features, users can view and map the distribution of alien species in Europe and select them using criteria ranging from the environment in which they are found (terrestrial, marine or fresh water) and their biological classification through to the pathways of their introduction.

At the heart of EASIN is a catalogue that currently contains over 16 000 species. This inventory of all reported alien species in Europe was produced by compiling, checking and standardising the information available online and in scientific literature. Users of EASIN can explore and map geo-referenced information on alien species from the following online databases: the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), the Global Invasive Species Information Network (GISIN) and the Regional Euro-Asian Biological Invasions Centre (REABIC). Further data providers will be included over the coming years. The EASIN web tools and services follow internationally recognised standards and protocols. They are free for use, while the data ownership remains with the source, which is properly cited and linked to in EASIN.

Next Steps

Combating invasive alien species is one of the six key objectives of the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy, and the Commission is preparing specific proposals for strengthening legislation in this area.

Background

Alien species are present in almost every ecosystem type on Earth. In some cases they have become invasive, affecting native biota. They belong to all major taxonomic groups, including viruses, fungi, algae, mosses, ferns, higher plants, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Invasive alien species can transform the structure and species composition of ecosystems by repressing or excluding native species, either directly by predation or competing with them for resources or indirectly by modifying habitats or changing the way nutrients are cycled through the system. The cost to human health includes the spread of disease as well as allergens; to the economy damage to agriculture and infrastructure; and to the environment the irretrievable loss of native species, damaging ecosystems and the biodiversity that underpins them.

It is estimated that 10-15 % of the alien species identified in the European environment have spread and cause environmental, economic and/or social damage. Species like Giant hogweed, signal crayfish, Zebra mussels and muskrats now impact human health, cause substantial damage to forestry, crops and fisheries, and congestion in waterways. Japanese knotweed for example inhibits the growth of other plants, outcompetes native plants, and seriously damages infrastructure, with huge economic implications. Studies have shown that in England, Scotland and Wales, this one plant alone causes € 205 million of damage each year.

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