Alien alert

25 August 2008 | News story

Biological invasions are caused by animals, plants and micro-organisms that are introduced to new areas, ecosystems or countries where they find the right conditions to spread and cause havoc.

Many such introductions occur because developers and livelihood improvers see valuable traits in foreign (or alien) species that are productive in other parts of the world. It is this introduction of species that has brought about the agriculture, horticulture, aquaculture and other uses of organisms upon which humanity has survived to expand for thousands of years.

Increased globalization and awareness of the existence of far-off “miracle trees”, fabulous fish, new herbs (with attendant herbal remedies for old problems), new breeds of livestock and “new” wild organisms to be domesticated. Alas with these introductions of new species, comes the significant risk of those very fabulous food and commodity producers becoming invasive and causing more problems than they solve.

The same applies to plants that we have brought with the same best intentions to provide timber, fibre, soil nutrients, erosion control, water purification, shade and beautiful gardens around the world – the risk of invasion following introduction. As we learn to understand how and why this happens and whether we are able to reduce the risks of introductions the shortage of oil-based fuels for energy production and transport makes us look to biofuels.

Production of energy from various types of biofuels is now seen as an essential adjunct to diminishing supplies of fossil fuels – and as a source of “alternative and sustainable energy”. Many of the best feedstock plants for biofuel production, however, are the ones that need to be introduced from other places – raising the same risks of biological invasion as the species introduced in recent decades for well-meaning additions to forestry, agroforestry, marine and freshwater aquaculture, new agriculture and environment improvement.

Read more in the article published in professional journal, Bioenergy Business, co-authored by IUCN's Geoffrey Howard and Silvia Ziller.