You can forget about the threat that could come from an aggressive species of aliens or from a giant asteroid. At present, the greatest danger to the planet, and to humans, lies elsewhere. According to scientists, the biggest threat is “hiding” right here on Earth among certain invasive species of animals and plants.
The greatest danger to the planet and people comes from where you least expect it
Invasive species are organisms that humans have accidentally or deliberately introduced into areas other than those that constitute their natural habitat. And in Romania, during this period, we are faced with several cases of West Nile fever, which has already led to several deaths. West Nile virus infection is produced by the bite of the Asian tiger mosquito.
This type of mosquito is native to the rainforests of South Asia, but has been introduced by importing used tires and ornamental aquatic plants such as “lucky bamboo” into Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, North America, Central America , South America, the Caribbean and Africa. But it is far from the only case of this kind.
A report by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimates that more than 37,000 such invasive species are spread worldwide, with 200 new species being recorded every year that are found in areas other than their natural habitat.
Among them, there are subspecies that make a major contribution to the escalation of the situation, settling, multiplying and dispersing in the new environment, with a total negative impact on it. The report shows that there are more than 3,500 global invasive species, which include animals, plants and microbes.
You can forget the aliens, the invasive species connection
The same document claims that this currently poses a serious threat to wildlife, food security and the very lives of people in regions affected by the invasion of these non-native species.
“Invasive species have become one of the seven horsemen of the biodiversity apocalypse, spreading across the world at a rapid pace,” Inger Anderson, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said in a statement.
Putting these aspects into statistical form, the co-author of the IPBES report, Anibal Pauchard, explained that 85% of the impact of this invasion on native species is negative.
“Invasive alien species have become a major factor in 60% of the extinction cases of native animal and plant species, and in 16% of these situations they are even the sole cause of the disappearance of those species.
At least 218 invasive species are responsible for more than 1,200 cases of local extinction. In fact, 85% of the impact of these species on native ones is negative,” explained Pauchard.
It is not the first time that invasive species “hit” like this. A well-known example caused by human action was the introduction of the toad to Australia in 1935. Although the goal was to control the pest population, the frogs instead caused an ecological catastrophe, interacting lethally with the local fauna and poisoning predators with their skin to.
The list of invasive species is much longer. For example, the Everglades swamp area, in the US state of Florida, is invaded by the 5-meter-long Burmese python, and Great Britain is invaded by the Asian wasp, which consumes and diminishes bee populations.
The researchers pointed out that it is not only the animals that destroy the ecosystems, but also the plants. Hawaii was ravaged by wildfires last month, in part due to the presence of an invasive species of grass, which spread across the entire island of Maui.
Invasive species also play a major role in the transmission of dangerous diseases, as is the case with the mosquito responsible for West Nile fever, which I mentioned at the beginning, but also for the spread of malaria, Zika fever or Dengue fever, example. In addition, certain plants, not specific to certain areas, can produce pollen that is much more allergenic than the local ones.
While 45% of the world’s countries do not invest in controlling invasive species populations, the report recommends that prevention should be their high priority, being much less expensive.