Behind the paper: The givers and takers of global invasion costs

Our research shows that flows of economically impactful invasive species and their reported costs are unevenly distributed worldwide. High reported cost flows between invasive alien species’ native countries and invaded countries were related to proxies of similar climates and shared trade history.
Published in Sustainability
Behind the paper: The givers and takers of global invasion costs
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Note: a previous version of this post had a shipping-related cover image that was changed for clarity. It may continue to display on old link previews. Previous image credit: Global shipping route frequency in 2007 based on data from Lloyd’s Register Fairplay (www.sea-web.co), from Kaluza, P., Kölzsch, A., Gastner, M. T., & Blasius, B. (2010). The complex network of global cargo ship movements. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 7(48), 1093-1103.

While globalization has its benefits to economic prosperity, the intercontinental movement of people and goods poses a threat to global sustainability by accelerating the flows and costs of biological invasions (Figure 1). Biological invasions occur when species are introduced by humans outside of their native range, with invasive alien species having enormous environmental and economic impacts. Being tightly linked to trade and transport patterns, these costs may not be borne equally around the globe and thus can challenge conservation and human wellbeing, especially in countries with smaller economies. Invasive alien species can be introduced intentionally or intentionally by humans, such as through the exotic trade in pets or as stowaways on ships. Their numbers are constantly increasing, driving biodiversity loss and costing trillions of dollars around the world.

The 'Ever Given' container ship at sea
Figure 1. Container ships like the infamous 'Ever Given' transport huge volumes of goods across the word every day. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Our research shows that flows of economically impactful invasive species and their reported costs are unevenly distributed worldwide, with costs disproportionately reported in just a few regions, such as North America (Figure 2).

Figure 2. The number of InvaCost records reported from each continent (a), alongside the number of invasive alien species with cost records attributed to their origin and recipient continent (b), and the total cost incurred due to species native to a given origin region and within a given recipient continent (c). Note that species native to a given continent may not have arrived directly in the invaded continent, and that species with multi-continent native ranges could not be resolved to a single country’s native population responsible for each cost record.

Our study used the publicly-available InvaCost database (https://invacost.fr), which compiles reported monetary costs of invasive species around the world and involves a multidisciplinary group of collaborators. We assigned the origin regions of costly invasive alien species, and examined which countries have paid these costs. We found that recorded costly invasive alien species have originated from almost all regions, most frequently causing impacts to Europe (where impacts were associated with 673 invasive alien species, Figure 3). In terms of cost magnitude, reported monetary costs predominantly resulted from species with origins in Asia impacting North America (totalling$ 319 billion measured in 2017US$ ). 

Figure 3. The continental flows of reports of invasive alien species with cost records in InvaCost (a) and the associated cost with each of these pairwise continental flows (b). Note that species native to a given continent may not have arrived directly in the invaded continent, and that species with multi-continent native ranges could not be resolved to a single continent’s native population responsible for each cost record.

This research also examined the drivers of cost flow dynamics between countries statistically. High reported cost flows between invasive alien species’ native countries and their invaded countries were related to proxies of similar climates and shared trade history, which can be partly attributed to the legacy of colonial expansion and past trade patterns. Therefore, costly biological invasions between country pairs were more likely if they had a history of trade or colonialism as well as shared environmental conditions, which promote arrival and success of alien species.

The country receiving the most reported costs was the USA (US$339 billion, Figure 3), although Colombia had the highest costs reported per publication (US$ 3.3 billion). Several countries appeared as both top senders and receivers (China, Canada, Colombia, USA, Australia, Russia; Canada and USA only when considering reported cost per publication). Some individual countries were pervasive sources of costly biological invasions, with flows from China and India to the United States particularly pronounced and reflecting trade intensities. However, these results should be viewed in the context of data availability, with cost magnitude reported in countries intuitively linked to research efforts to uncover these costs. 

Figure 4. The top 10 countries in terms of the total reported cost within InvaCost associated with invasive alien species native to that country (a), the top 10 countries bearing the highest costs from invasive alien species reported in InvaCost (b), and the top 10 pairings of origin and recipient countries in terms of reported costs in InvaCost (c). Note that species native to a given country may not have arrived directly in the invaded country, and that species with multi-country native ranges could not be resolved to a single country’s native population responsible for each cost record.

The characterization of ‘sender’ and ‘receiver’ regions of invasive alien species and their associated costs highlights the immense risks posed by alien species, and can be used to motivate prevention and early intervention in response to invasions, as well as the prioritization of control efforts across invasion routes. With the world becoming more interconnected and biological invasions being bolstered by climate change and habitat degradation, it is likely that these flows of costs will intensify in the future without more proactive management actions (e.g., biosecurity and timely eradication initiatives). These cost flows could hit less economically developed countries hardest in future, which have lower preparedness and capacity to mitigate and manage biological invasion impacts.

Our findings have important implications for policymakers, highlighting the need for a more coordinated global response to biological invasions. By identifying the regions and species that are most at risk, policymakers can take action to protect biodiversity and the sustainability of economies and societies. 

This research has been published in Nature Sustainability and is available online (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-023-01124-6). All data and code associated with the research is available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7776447

For further information, please contact emma.hudgins@carleton.ca

 





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