A collaborative network involving more than 40 countries has mobilised public interest across Europe in monitoring invasive alien species by developing engaging communication materials and events.

The number of non-native, or alien, plants and animals being introduced from their natural homes to other parts of the world are increasing globally, and some of them can have a negative impact on biodiversity and people’s well-being. Citizen science is seen as key to providing information about alien species, particularly those that are invasive, and inform action to prevent them becoming established in countries or reduce their spread and impact.

Alien-CSI, an initiative comprising scientists from across the world and chaired by Professor Helen Roy of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, encouraged more people to take part in biological recording and raised awareness of the threat from invasive alien species. It was supported by COST, an EU funding agency, as one of its ‘Actions’, interdisciplinary research networks that bring together scientists and others to investigate a topic for four years.

The Alien-CSI team collaboratively developed communication materials including animation videos, games, information leaflets, blogs and popular science articles in multiple languages. These were targeted at different audiences including many different stakeholder groups such as schools, environment centres, teachers and citizen scientists. 

The project team organised a series of public events, including bioblitzes. A bioblitz is held over a relatively short period of time to document as many species as possible in a particular place, with the aim of raising awareness of the importance of biodiversity and encouraging people to get involved in monitoring wildlife. A total of almost 200 different invasive alien plant species were recorded by members of the public during a three-day Alien-CSI Bioblitz from 20 to 22 May 2022 in 12 different European countries.

Alien-CSI also enabled knowledge exchange among participants of the COST Action by holding training workshops and webinars. It also funded researchers to take part in short-term exchange programmes, training schools and other activities to explore biological invasions and the opportunities for citizen science to increase understanding of alien species.

Professor Roy said: “Invasive alien plants and animals pose one of the main threats to wildlife, ecosystems and human well-being. Collaborations through networks such as Alien-CSI provide incredible opportunities to share knowledge and inform action. I have been inspired by the innovative approaches developed by Alien-CSI participants to increase understanding of biological invasions through citizen science.”

“We have been excited to engage with people across many countries to share knowledge on invasive alien species and it has been fascinating to hear people talking about the ways in which invasive alien species affect their lives. Alien-CSI has facilitated interactions through the involvement of hundreds of people leading to collaborations which will be sustained long into the future.”

As part of Alien-CSI, an analysis of data from more than 1,000 bioblitzes was carried out, which demonstrated for the first time that such events increase the recording activity of the participants for several months afterwards. The paper, More than a Bit of Fun: The Multiple Outcomes of a Bioblitz, published in the journal Bioscience, showed the events are effective in networking between organisations, which is critical for a joined-up approach to conservation. The paper also examined the future of bioblitzes and how they might be used with new technologies and to collect a much wider range of data.

For more information about Alien-CSI, visit the project pages.

Key outputs 

The Alien-CSI COST Action:
●    directly funded 19 different communication materials 
●    collaborated on 45 scientific papers 
●    awarded grants to 42 scientists, mostly early career researchers, to take part in activities including exchange programmes
●    had more than 200 people registered within its network 
●    held 13 in-person meetings, in addition to virtual meetings

Communication materials produced by the project include information for teachers, NGOs, researchers, volunteer groups, government agencies and others on setting up an alien species citizen science project. There are also three fun booklets featuring characters called The Three Mosquiteers, which educate children about invasive alien species, the ecology of mosquitoes and the fantastic pollinators of Europe, while the Insect Invaders game helps young people learn about different invasive alien insects.