Monday, November 16, 2015

Invasive freshwater species in Europe’s lakes and rivers

Freshwater ecosystems suffer from greater loss of biodiversity than most terrestrial ecosystems, mainly due to human activities including the introduction of species outside their natural range. Twenty percent of species extinctions are caused by invasive alien species.

A new study analysed the spatial and temporal patterns and trends of the main pathways and gateways of alien species in Europe, using the European Alien Species Information Network (EASIN) inventory. This inventory currently includes over 750 freshwater species reported as aliens (established or suspected) in European inland waters. The study is the first pan-European assessment of both the main pathways and gateways of first introductions for freshwater alien species in Europe. Its results could greatly help achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Target 9 regarding the prevention and control of invasive alien species.

The study found a marked increase in the introduction of freshwater alien species in Europe over the past 60 years, largely as a result of globalisation. The results identified escape from aquaculture facilities, releases in the wild due to pet/aquarium trade and stocking activities as the main pathways of alien species introduction in European lakes and rivers. Germany, the UK and Italy are the main entry gateways. Most of the initial introductions in Europe come from aquaculture, which is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the world food economy. Aquaculture is trailed by aquarium trade, a multi-billion dollar industry which has also seen remarkable growth in recent years. 

The authors recommend tightened controls, and improved prevention and management measures in order to halt the increasing trend of freshwater alien species introductions in Europe. They also note that public education could greatly help increase awareness of the risks for freshwater ecosystems.

Since a clear policy for the prevention, containment and monitoring of invasive alien species is finally available in Europe, adequate measures tackling priority pathways and gateways of introductions in Europe are expected to be implemented in the near future. 

Well, I can only hope these include DNA-based identification methods such as DNA Barcoding.

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