Alien pest incursions threaten New Zealand’s primary industries

New Zealand’s environment and primary industries are under threat from pests we don’t even know about yet, says Professor Philip Hulme of the Bio-Protection Research Centre, based at Lincoln University.

Professor Hulme was part of a large international collaboration of scientists who analysed 46,000 recorded sightings of invasive animal and plant species around the world. Their research* showed that one in every four new pest incursions were from species that had never before been recorded as being invasive.

“We looked at patterns over the last five centuries to see whether there was any evidence of a slowdown in the number of new pests and weeds emerging around the world, but there wasn’t,” said Professor Hulme.

“Just as many new pests are emerging now as in previous centuries.

“If we look at the pests and weeds already in New Zealand, most have come from Europe, Australia or North America, our traditional trade partners and sources of immigration. However, Asia is now becoming more important to both trade and immigration, and this is where many new pests and weeds appear to be coming from.”

Professor Hulme says we may be entering a new era for biosecurity as we face an increasing wave of unknown emerging pest species.

“We need to make sure our biosecurity system is sufficiently flexible and well-resourced to deal with unexpected incursions by species we probably will know nothing about,” says Professor Hulme.

“The responsibility rests with all of us: government, industry, the public, and every tourist who crosses our borders,” says Prof Hulme.

He urged everybody to be vigilant, understand the risks and take action in a way that minimises the chances of any new pest or disease crossing our borders.

*Seebens, H., Blackburn TM, Dyer EE, Genovesi P, Hulme PE et al. (2018): Global rise in emerging alien species results from increased accessibility of new source pools. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1719429115

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