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Brussels, 04 March 2008

Environment: nature's uninvited guests under scrutiny

Europe's biodiversity is under threat from species from abroad such as muskrats and giant hogweed, but little is known about the extent of the problem. These invasive alien species (IAS) can disrupt local flora and fauna and cause considerable damage to nature and the economy. On March 3 the Commission is launching a web-based survey to gather suggestions about how to address this issue most effectively at EU level. The results of the survey will inform a Commission communication on an EU framework for Invasive Alien Species to be adopted by the end of the year.

"Europe is committed to halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010," Commissioner Dimas said. "We know that invasive species are one of the major threats to biodiversity, and that economies often suffer as a result, but we lack a harmonised system for tackling the problem and assessing its impact. A strong public response to this survey will help Europe define the problem more clearly, and ultimately help us develop a suitable mechanism to halt it altogether."

The Commission consultation

The European Commission is tackling this problem by launching an internet consultation on the issue on 3 March, to remain open until 5 May 2008. Interested parties, including individual citizens, industry and consumer representatives, interest groups, the NGO community and other organisations are all invited to contribute information and opinions. The results of this consultation will be used to inform the development of EU policy in the field of invasive alien species, the options for which will be presented in a Communication from the Commission at the end of 2008.

The dangers of invasion

Ecosystems are dynamic by nature, and many species become established far from their place of origin. These introductions are often the result of human action – Europe's rhododendrons originated in the Himalayas, and staples of the European diet such as tomatoes, potatoes and maize originated in the Americas. But while many introduced species bring considerable benefits to local economies, others upset the balance and proliferate in ways that are highly destructive to the environment and to economic and human interests. Europe currently lacks a coherent framework to tackle such invasive alien species (IAS), and the fragmented measures that are in place are unlikely to make a substantial contribution to lowering the risks posed by IAS to European ecosystems. This consultation is a first step to address this problem on a European scale.

A global problem

A substantial ‘pool’ of alien species is already known to be present in the EU. The Mediterranean, for example, has suffered extensive damage from Caulerpa taxifolia, an invasive seaweed. Much of western Europe has suffered serious economic and environmental damage due to Zebra mussels Dreissena polymorpha, which clog power plant intakes and compete with native mussel populations. The Asian topmouth gudgeon Pseudorasbora parva has spread rapidly throughout Europe since being introduced into Romanian ponds close to the Danube in the 1960s, with serious consequences for native species due the parasites it brings. Rectifying such problems can be extremely expensive. Germany, for example, spends some €44 million a year making good the damage to river banks and embankments from muskrats and exotic plants such as knotweed and giant hogweed.

Many of these unintentional introductions result from trading patterns and international mobility. Other common causes include species escaping from gardens or aquariums (this is the case for most alien plants established in the wild), from captivity (for most invasive mammals) or from aquaculture. The deliberate stocking of freshwater alien fauna by anglers is another common cause. In the marine environment, harmful aquatic organisms are often introduced via ballast water in ships, taken on in one part of the world and released somewhere far distant.

The problem of biodiversity loss

The world's biodiversity is currently under enormous strain from numerous threats often caused by human activity and aggravated by climate change. Invasive alien species are known to be part of the problem. Biodiversity underpins the flow of ecosystem goods and services (food, fuel, fibre, air quality, water flow and quality, soil fertility and cycling of nutrients), and is a key resource for tourism. Yet some two-thirds of ecosystem services worldwide are in decline. In the EU, this decline is expressed in collapsing fish stocks, widespread damage to soils, costly flood damages, and disappearing wildlife.

Further information:

You can take part in the survey at:

For more on invasive alien species see:

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