Biosecurity warning: NZ needs to be alert as global pest threat grows

Armed with new research showing pests are continuing to spread around the world, a biosecurity expert is sounding a warning for New Zealand to continue to be vigilant about guarding its borders.

Professor Philip Hulme, of the Bio-Protection Centre at Lincoln University, is a senior author on the study which shows international efforts to prevent the entry and spread of pests, weeds, and diseases have not been sufficient to keep up with the pace of globalisation, and we can certainly expect more invasions in the future.

It revealed the number of invasive species worldwide has been increasing over the last 200 years with no sign of slowing down. At a global scale, this means that there are almost two new pest incursions somewhere in the world every day.

New Zealand needs to ensure biosecurity is right at the top of the business and tourism agenda, Professor Hulme says.

“As a country with a unique flora and fauna as well as strong economic dependence of agriculture, it is vital for New Zealand to have stringent and robust biosecurity policies.

“I’m not sure this message gets through enough to our millions of tourists, the airlines, or importers,” he says.

The study, involving an international team of 45 scientists, found increases in invasive species were associated with human activities, particularly the expansion of agriculture, horticulture and global trade.

While new species can boost diversity in an area, they can also have detrimental impacts on the native ecosystem, economy, environment and human health. In some cases, they can even bring about the extinction of native species.

Among the positives, New Zealand was one of the few countries shown to have fewer records of weed incursions in the last few decades.

“The success at reducing weed incursions is largely down to New Zealand implementing a strict biosecurity policy in 1993,” says Professor Hulme, “as such, our biosecurity systems can be viewed as a global example of best practice.”

Altogether, the researchers compiled more than 45,000 records of about 17,000 different species worldwide, including plants, birds, insects, mammals, fishes, fungi, algae and molluscs. Getting this long-term data is difficult and these numbers are likely to underestimate the full extent of species incursions, Professor Hulme says.

The study’s findings highlight the continued need for improvements in national legislation and international agreements to help mitigate invasions and keep up with impacts from increasing globalisation.

“New Zealand is already leading the way and hopefully through Biosecurity 2025, New Zealand is on the road to futureproofing the system to meet increasing global trade and travel that present continual new challenges,” says Professor Hulme.

Seebens et al (2016). No saturation in the accumulation of alien species worldwide. Nature Communications DOI: 101.1038/ncomms14435 (HERE)

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