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Brussels, 04 March 2008
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 twothirds 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: