Species become invasive when they negatively impact the surrounding environment. These consequences could present themselves as economic or environmental damage or harm to human health.
An invasive species is a plant or animal that is not found naturally in a certain area. Often, people bring the breed to a non-native location where it then harms the environment, economy and human health.
Some species can be harmful enough that they last for decades and continuously impact surrounding communities and ecosystems. Finding solutions for these invaders can be difficult, as well. Invasive populations like certain fish can sometimes be virtually impossible to reduce.
Understanding the sources of invasive species and their impacts will ultimately lead to more prevention and action. They can spread on even the smallest scales — so learning more about them is the key to a better future.
Not all non-native species are invasive. In fact, some are standard and a normal part of life. For instance, something as common as wheat isn’t necessarily a native plant species in certain parts of the United States. Still, farmers grow it as a crop year-round.
Species become invasive when they negatively impact the surrounding environment. These consequences could present themselves as economic or environmental damage or harm to human health. Often, people will bring invasive species in for pest control, crop growth or to sell. When this happens, the plant or animal can adapt quickly and spread.
People originally brought the cane toad to Australia to control insects. However, it is instead harming the surrounding ecosystem. Its poisonous skin can kill a crocodile.
A similar thing happened with the Kudzu plant, originally native to Japan and southeast China. In the southern parts of the U.S., this plant has been uncontrollably taking over homes for years.
When they’re new to a region, invasive species don’t have natural predators. They can be immune to venom and toxins and will withstand removal efforts. Thus, they take root or reproduce and spread until they become a norm.
Invasive species impact agriculture, forestry and fishing. Plants and animals can take over these areas and cause irreparable harm to local or global economies and the surrounding ecosystems, and can even harm humans.
These species can kill off native crops and animals. Farmers may have to downsize their land, and fishing markets may catch less viable fish to sell. Supply chains then see less business, throwing supply and demand out of sorts.
Communities often depend on the natural resources around them. Some cultures need naturally growing plants and animals for food and medicine. If invasive species like Japanese beetles eat crops, people won’t have access to the resources they need.
Invasive species can also significantly harm human health. For instance, zebra mussels are not naturally found in the Great Lakes but instead are native to Russia and Ukraine.
These mussels have a toxin that can cause health issues for people after consumption. Similarly, a plant like sumac is common throughout the United States and becomes invasive quickly, with potentially poisonous iterations spawning.
These effects often go hand-in-hand, negatively affecting all three areas at the same time. Such drastic impacts require immediate action.
The removal process of non-native species is quite complicated. Plants can grow rapidly and spread overnight. Fish are hard to track and monitor once they’re in a body of water. Containing and stopping these species can often fail, leading to a normalization of these invaders.
However, some things can help. First and foremost, more education is necessary. The public must become more aware of how dangerous invasive species can be.
It’s also important for lawmakers to enact more regulations and rules against the transport and sales of invasive species — both plants and animals. Though some creatures travel on their own, like stink bugs through shipping to the US, policymakers can hone in on the consequences for aiding in the spread of invasive species.
Finally, every effort to remove the species is helpful. It may be difficult to completely eliminate non-native animals, but removing invasive plants can prove beneficial.
Scientific research can lead to additional regulations that accurately guide the reduction and removal of these species.
Invasive species pose a threat to people worldwide. They have the potential to cause significant damage. However, with the right proactive steps, countries can reduce invasive plant and animal populations.
Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.